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Nella Larsen (Nella Imes Larsen) Biography

(1893–1964), (Nella Imes Larsen), Quicksand, Passing

black university woman

African-American novelist, born in Chicago to a Danish mother and a black father from the Virgin Islands. She was educated at Fisk University and at university in Copenhagen, and returned to the USA where she trained as a nurse. Her two published novels deal with identity and marginality and are pioneering works in raising issues of black female sexuality. Quicksand (1928), described by W. E. B. Du Bois as ‘the best piece of fiction that Negro America has produced since the heyday of Chesnutt’, tells of the search for self of Helga Crane, a mixed-race woman trapped between middle-class respectability and sexual fulfilment. Passing (1929) is ostensibly about black people who ‘pass’ for white, but also about the desire of one woman for another. In the wake of a controversy about her 1930 story ‘Sanctuary’ resembling another writer's, she left the literary scene and died in near obscurity. See also ethnicity.

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