Jessie Redmon Fauset - Writer

 Jessie Redmon Fauset

Jessie Redmon Fauset

JESSIE REDMON FAUSET (April 27, 1882 – April 30, 1961) was an African American editor, poet, essayist, and novelist   She was the editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis.  She was also the editor and co-author for the African American children's magazine The Brownies Book.  She studied the teachings and beliefs of W.E.B Dubois and considered him to be her mentor.  Fauset was known as one of the most intelligent female novelists of the Harlem Renaissance, earning her the name ‘the midwife’. In her lifetime she wrote four novels, as well as some poetry and short fiction.

Fauset was born on April 27th, 1882 in Camden County, New Jersey.  She was the daughter of Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Annie Seamon Fauset.  Jessie’s mother died when she was a child and her father remarried.  Fauset came from a large family mired in poverty.  She attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and became the school's first African-American graduate.  She wanted to study at Bryn Mawr College but they circumvented the issue of admitting a black student by finding her a scholarship for another university and so she continued her education at Cornell University.  She graduated from Cornell University in 1905 with a degree in classical languages.  It was speculated that she was the first black woman in the Phi Beta Kappa Society.  Fauset later received her Master’s degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Following her graduation Fauset became a teacher at Dunbar High School in Washington DC, and spent her summers in Paris studying at La Sorbonne.  In 1919 Fauset left teaching and became the literary editor for the The Crisis, working alongside W.E.B. Du Bois up until her departure in 1926.  Fauset became a member of the NAACP and represented the US in the Pan African Congress in 1921.  After her Congress speech, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority made her an honorary member.  Fauset married insurance broker Herbert Harris in 1929 at the age of 47. When Harris died at age 58 Fauset moved back to Philadelphia with her stepbrother.  She died on April 30, 1961 from heart disease.

Literary Editor at the Crisis

Jessie Fauset’s time with the Crisis is considered the most prolific literary period of the magazine’s run.  In July 1918, Fauset became a contributor to The Crisis, sending articles for the “Looking Glass” column from her home in Philadelphia.  By July of the following year, W.E.B. Du Bois requested that she move to New York in order to become the Literary Editor.  By October, Fauset was installed in the office of The Crisis, where she quickly took over most of the organizational duties.  

As Literary Editor, Fauset fostered the careers of many of the most famous authors of the Harlem Renaissance, including Countee CullenClaude McKayJean Toomer, and Langston Hughes.  Though Hughes referred to Fauset as the “midwife” of the Harlem Renaissance in his 1940 memoir “The Big Sea”, the true meaning of this moniker has only recently begun to be fully appreciated by critics.  Fauset was in fact the first person to give life to Hughes’ works, publishing his early poems in in The Brownies’ Book, The Crisis’s children’s magazine.

Beyond nurturing the careers of other African American modernist writers, Fauset was also a prolific contributor to both The Crisis and The Brownies’ Book. During her time with The Crisis, Fauset contributed poems and short stories, as well as a novelette, translations from the French of writings of black authors from Europe and Africa, and a multitude of editorials.  Fauset also published accounts of her extensive travels.  Notably, Fauset included five essays detailing her six month visit to France and Algeria in 1925 and 1926 with Laura Wheeler Waring.  Nevertheless, her most famous work remains the editorial that she wrote detailing her visits to the Pan-African Congresses in 1921 and 1923. 

Jessie Redmon Fauset  

Jessie Redmon Fauset

After eight years as Literary Editor, conflicts between Fauset and Du Bois began to take their toll.  In February 1927, Fauset left her position at The Crisis.  She is instead listed as ‘Contributing Editor,’ though this designation remained on the masthead for only a month.  From 1927 to 1944, she taught French at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, while continuing to still publish.


Between 1924 and 1933, Fauset wrote four novels: “There is Confusion” (1924), “Plum Bun” (1928), “The Chinaberry Tree” (1931), and “Comedy, American Style” (1933).  Inspired by T.S. Stribling’s novel “Birthright”, Fauset recognized a dearth of positive depictions of African American experience in contemporary literature, and thereby set out to portray African American life as realistically, and as positively, as possible.

Fauset's first novel, “There is Confusion”, was widely praised upon release, especially within the pages of the Crisis.  This novel traces the family histories of Joanna Mitchell and Peter Bye, who must each come to terms with the baggage of their racial histories.

Published in 1923, her second novel “Plum Bun” has warranted the most attention.  It centers on the theme of ‘passing.’  The protagonist, Angela Murray, eventually reclaims her African American identity after spending much of the novel ‘passing’ for white.

Fauset's third novel, “The Chinaberry Tree” has largely been ignored.  Set in New Jersey, this novel explores the longing for ‘respectability’ among the contemporary African American middle class.  The protagonist Laurentine seeks to overcome her "bad blood" through marriage to a ‘decent’ man.  Ultimately, Laurentine must redefine ‘respectable’ as she finds her own sense of identity.

 Jessie Redmon Fauset 1921

Jessie Redmon Fauset (passport picture, 1921)

Her last novel “Comedy, American Style”, explores the destructive power of ‘color mania’. The protagonist's mother Olivia ultimately brings about the downfall of the other characters due to her own internalized racism.



  • "Rondeau."The Crisis. April 1912: 252.
  • "La Vie C’est La Vie."The Crisis. July 1922: 124.
  • "‘Courage!’ He Said."The Crisis. November 1929: 378

Short Stories

  • "Emmy,"The Crisis. December 1912: 79-87; January 1913: 134-142.
  • "My House and a Glimpse of My Life Therein,"The Crisis. July 1914: 143-145.
  • "Double Trouble,"The Crisis. August 1923: 155-159; September 1923: 205-209.


  • "Impressions of the Second Pan-African Congress",The Crisis. November 1921: 12-18.
  • "What Europe Thought of the Pan-African Congress."The Crisis. December 1921: 60-69.

Further reading

  • Laurie Champion,American Woman Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook.
  • Kevin De Ornellas,Writing African American Women: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color(Greenwood Press, 2006), edited by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu.
  • Joseph J. Feeny "Jessie Fauset of The Crisis: Novelist, Feminist, Centenarian." (1983)
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr, Nellie McKay, "The Norton Anthology of African American Literature", (2004)
  • Abby Arthur Johnson, "Literary Midwife: Jessie Redmon Fauset and the Harlem Renaissance." (1978)
  • Carolyn Wedin Sylvander,Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black American Writer


Brought to you by Paris-based African American artist Ealy Mays




  • Paul, Ruben."Jessie Redmon Faucet".in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. Retrieved Sept 20 2011.
  • Gale."Jessie Redmon Fauset".Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Retrieved Sept. 20 2011.
  • Carolyn Wedin Sylvander,Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black American Writer
  • Carolyn Wedin Sylvander,Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black American Writer

Other links

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