Jean Toomer Exile
When William Dean Howells and Lyrics of Lowly Life made Paul Laurence Dunbar famous in 1896, Nathan Eugene Toomer was a two-year-old infant in the home of his grandfather, P. B. S. Pinchback, still remembered as the only known Negro to serve as acting governor of a Southern state. Twenty-five years later, Jean Toomer seemed certain to eclipse the fame of both Dunbar and his own grandfather.
Writers and editors vied with each other to predict his success. Waldo Frank, who became a close friend, marveled about his dramas:
On the whole, my dear Jean Toomer, I am enormously impressed by the power and fullness and fineness of your Say. . . . A man whose spirit is like yours so high and straight a flame does not need to be told that he has enormous gift. 1
John McClure, the editor of Double Dealer, was the first to publish Toomer's writing. After examining selections, he wrote, "The work which you showed us three weeks ago seems to all of us not only full of rich promise but, to a great extent, of rich fulfillment."2 About the same time at which Toomer was sending Frank news of this reception, Frank was confessing his humility about his projected book, "Holiday" ( 1923):
I am probably presumptuous to write about the Negro, and particularly since I know you who are creating a