Who Was Jessie Fauset?
In 1912, Jessie Fauset began to write for The Crisis, a magazine founded by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois hired Fauset to be the magazine's literary editor in 1919. In this role, she encouraged many Harlem Renaissance writers. She also wrote four novels of her own.
Jessie Redmon Fauset was born on April 27, 1882, in New Jersey's Camden County. She grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her family was not well-off, but they valued education.
Fauset attended the esteemed Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she was likely the sole African American in her class. She wanted to go on to Bryn Mawr College. However, the institution was reluctant to accept its first Black student, choosing instead to help Fauset get a scholarship to attend Cornell University.
Fauset did well at Cornell and was selected to join Phi Beta Kappa (some sources have incorrectly identified her as the first African American woman to become a member of the academic honor society). After graduating in 1905, Fauset's race kept her from being hired as a teacher in Philadelphia. Instead, she taught in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Working for 'The Crisis'
In 1912, while still teaching, Fauset began to submit reviews, essays, poems and short stories to The Crisis, a magazine founded and edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois convinced her to become the publication's literary editor, a position she took up in 1919.
Fauset was active during the Harlem Renaissance, an awakening of artistic output within the African American community. In her editorial role, she encouraged a number of writers, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer and Claude McKay. She also continued to write her own pieces for the magazine.
In addition to her work at The Crisis, Fauset served as co-editor for The Brownies' Book, which was published monthly from 1920 to 1921. The publication's goal was to teach African American children about their heritage, information Fauset had wished for during her own childhood.
Novels and Post-Crisis Career
Fauset was inspired to write a novel after reading an inaccurate portrayal of African Americans in a book penned by a white author. Her first novel, There Is Confusion (1924), featured African American characters in a middle-class setting. It was an unusual choice for the time, which made it more difficult for Fauset to find a publisher.
Fauset left her position at The Crisis in 1926. She looked for work in publishing—even offering to work from home so that her race wouldn't be a factor—but was not successful. She then returned to teaching. Fauset also wrote three more novels: Plum Bun (1929), The Chinaberry Tree (1931) and Comedy: American Style (1933).
Fauset's mostly bourgeois characters continued to deal with prejudice, constrained opportunities and cultural compromises. Some of her contemporaries appreciated her focus on a previously unexamined slice of African American life, but others scorned her genteel settings. Her last two novels were less successful, and Fauset's formerly prodigious writing output began to taper off.
Later Years and Legacy
Fauset had married a businessman, Herbert Harris, in 1929. The two lived together in New Jersey until Harris died in 1958. Fauset then returned to Philadelphia. She died in that city on April 30, 1961, at the age of 79.
With her support for up-and-coming writers, Fauset was responsible for the development of many new African American voices, while her novels, essays, poems and other work meant that she was a prolific author in her own right. Though not as well-known as many of her contemporaries, Fauset was an important part of the Harlem Renaissance.
- Name: Jessie Redmon Fauset
- Birth Year: 1882
- Birth date: April 27, 1882
- Birth State: New Jersey
- Birth City: Camden County
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Female
- Best Known For: As the literary editor for 'The Crisis,' Jessie Fauset supported many new voices during the Harlem Renaissance. She also authored novels, essays and poems.
- Journalism and Nonfiction
- Fiction and Poetry
- Education and Academia
- Astrological Sign: Taurus
- Cornell University
- Philadelphia High School for Girls
- University of Pennsylvania
- Death Year: 1961
- Death date: April 30, 1961
- Death State: Pennsylvania
- Death City: Philadelphia
- Death Country: United States
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- Article Title: Jessie Fauset Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/authors-writers/jessie-fauset
- Access Date:
- Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
- Last Updated: August 12, 2020
- Original Published Date: April 2, 2014
- Being colored in America at any rate means: Facing the ordinary difficulties of life, getting education, work, in fine getting a living plus fighting everyday against some inhibition of natural liberties.
- When I was a child I used to puzzle my head ruefully over the fact that in school we studied the lives of only great white people. I took it that there simply have been no great negroes, and I was amazed when, as I grew older, I found that there were.
- Negro fiction would be infinitely poorer without the persevering and slowly maturing art of Miss Fauset, and her almost single-handed championship of upper and middle-class negro life as an important subject for fiction.
- Miss Fauset has written many novels about the people of her circle. Some white critics consider these people not interesting enough to write about. I think all people are interesting to write about.
- Jessie Fauset at 'The Crisis,' Charles Johnson at 'Opportunity' and Alain Locke in Washington were the three people who midwifed the so-called 'New Negro Literature' into being. Kind and critical—but not too critical for the young—they nursed us along until our books were born.