Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) was a celebrated Harlem Renaissance writer who lived in Washington, DC, early in her career. She taught Latin and French at Dunbar High School from 1906 to 1919 before moving to New York to become the literary editor of The Crisis, the magazine established by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and edited by W.E.B. Du Bois.
Fauset was born in a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia and graduated from the prestigious Philadelphia High School for Girls in 1900. She is thought to have been the only black student there at the time. She was the second African American woman to graduate from Cornell University (1905). The Phi Beta Kappa organization speculates she was the first to be admitted to its collegiate national honor society. Later Fauset studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and received an M.A. in French from the University of Pennsylvania.
Fauset published four novels but is better known for her literary criticism—which promoted the careers of writers such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Nella Larsen, Arna Bontemps, and Zora Neale Hurston—and essays, in particular her biographical works. She was particularly known for her support of younger black writers. Langston Hughes referred to her as one of “the people who midwifed the so-called New Negro Literature into being.” (The others were Charles Johnson at Opportunity and Alain Locke of Howard University.) The New Negro Renaissance was a period during which the high levels of black artistic, literary, and cultural endeavors attracted mainstream recognition. Racial solidarity and conciousness permeated these works, which often drew on themes of alienation and folk traditions in fiction and music, especially the blues. Fauset’s novels, the first of which came out in 1924, address the issue of African Americans “passing” as white and the complexities of class.
Fauset lived at a few different addresses in DC, but the place she lived the longest (1912-1915) was 1812 13th Street, NW, rear.
Adelaide M. Cromwell, My Mothering Aunt: Otelia Cromwell (Northampton, MA: Smith College, 2010) 55.
DC City Directories, 1909-1919
Susan Goodman, Civil Wars: American Novelists and Manners, 1880-1949 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 130-49.
Kevin De Ornellas, “Fauset, Jessie Redmon (1882-1961),” in Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu, ed., Writing African American Women (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), vol 1.
Abby Arthur Johnson, “Literary Midwife: Jessie Redmon Fauset and the Harlem Renaissance.”Phylon (June 1978): 143-153.
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