REGION AND RACE AS ELEMENTS
WITHIN A LITERARY IMAGINATION
CHARLES T. DAVIS
If we are to take the word and trust the memories of those who participated in the Negro Renaissance in the 1920s, the most exciting single work produced by the movement was Cane, by Jean Toomer. 1 Cane appeared in 1923, 2 the work of an author not entirely unknown. Portions of Cane had appeared in The Crisis and in an impressive number of little magazines known for their commitment to revolutionary ideas and experimental writing. The list reads like the index of the study by Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich, The Little Magazine: Broom, Double Dealer, Liberator, Little Review, Nomad, Prairie and S4N. It suggests that Toomer was a part of a lively intellectual world that considered with great seriousness the cultural situation of America at the time. 3 And it suggests too that the publication of Cane was an event of national consequence, not a local or provincial phenomenon or simply a racial one, the case, indeed, if Toomer's achievement were simply the satisfaction of being another Negro who had managed to publish a book. After all, just a year before, T. S. Eliot had published The Waste Land in another of these little magazines, The Dial, and we have just barely recovered from that event. Toomer arrived with a bang, and with a set of qualifications that could hardly be more impressive.
Though Toomer's achievement is not limited, finally, by reference to either region or race, it exploits in an unusual way both of these elements. Technically, Toomer was not a Southerner. Or to put it better, his connection with the South was not direct; it resembles Frost's association with New England. Robert Lee Frost was born in San Francisco, of parents originally from New England; Nathan Eugene Toomer, later called Jean, whose parents were originally from the South,