FAUSET, JESSIE REDMON
Jessie Redmon Fauset was born in 1882 in Snow Hill Center Township, New Jersey. She received a scholarship to Cornell University and became the first black woman to graduate from that institution. She earned her MA degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Fauset taught French in public high schools and later used her language skills to translate works of French West Indian writing. In her capacity as literary editor of Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, from 1919 until 1927, she was at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance and published such writers as Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Anne Spencer, and Langston Hughes.
Fauset wrote four novels, There Is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1928), The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life (1931), and Comedy, American Style (1933). When her literary output ceased, she returned to teaching in the public schools. At age forty-seven, Fauset married Herbert E. Harris, an insurance executive. She died in 1961 from heart failure.
Fauset's best novel, Plum Bun, is divided into five sections that illustrate and parallel the epigraphic nursery rhyme “To Market, to Market/To buy a Plum Bun;/ Home again, Home again,/Market is done.” It is the story of Angela Murray, a young middle-class black who is able to “pass” as her mother has done before her. The difference in their “passing” is that the mother practices passing as a habit of occasional indulgence; she does not deny her black blood, and she is firmly rooted in the black community of Philadelphia. She passes from time to time to enjoy the privileges that are denied her as a black woman: having tea in a nice hotel, shopping in the nicer stores of Philadelphia. Angela's experience with “passing” will prove disastrous to her closest relationships.