Larsen married a physicist named Elmer S. Imes on May 3, 1919 and she eventually took a job as a librarian in Harlem. Being married to Imes she was considered a “socialite wife,” and because of this she was introduced to many black authors of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and James Weldon Johnson. Her first novel Quicksand was published in 1928 and her second novel Passing in 1929. In 1930 she was accused of plagiarism. Her short story Sanctuary seemed to be very similar to another story that was published a few years prior. She eventually proved that she had not plagiarized but she was never published again. Larsen was also experiencing marital problems during this time and which eventually led to a divorce in 1933. Crushed by the accusation of plagiarism and her subsequent divorce she withdrew from the literary world and worked as a nurse for the remainder of her life. Nella Larsen died in March of 1964.
Tate, Claudia. “Desire and Death: Seducing the Lost Father in Quicksand, by Nella Larsen.” In Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocols of Race. By Claudia Tate, 119–147. Race and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Book Review for Passing by Nella Larsen-Chapter Summary ..
Passing study guide contains a biography of Nella Nella Larsen Passing Essays Larsen, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
Larsen's Quicksand continues to be interpreted in the veinof the literary genre of the "tragic mulatta," a melodramaticform in which the mixed-race character is seen as a split subject,tragically flawed by "nature" and trapped in a narrativetrajectory inevitably leading to rejection or death. Helga Crane, thebiracial protagonist of Quicksand, like the author Nella Larsen, is thedaughter of a Danish mother and a black father (Davis, Nella Larsen;Larson). As George Hutchinson observes in The Harlem Renaissance inBlack and White, interpretations of Helga as a character tragicallylacking agency and possessing a conflicted racial identity are echoed inbiographers' critical evaluation of the author's own tenuoussense of identity and her tragic history. Hutchinson's work isvaluable in pointing out how Larsen's narrativizing of her life isdevalued when the text is seen as transparent expression of her realityrather than a crafted work of art, and that this devaluation isspecifically the result of a distinctly U. S. cultural bias stemmingfrom a binary racial ideology that erases the subjectivity of biracialand multiracial individuals. Such erasures tend to re-inscribe thefiction of the tragic mulatta while burying the importance to literarystudies of the "interracial modernist networks" thatconstitute trans-Atlantic modernism. (3)Nella Larsen is closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance, an era of unprecedented achievement in African American art and literature during the 1920s and early 1930s. Although she is less well known than other black writers of this period, she has been highly praised for her two novels Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). In these works Larsen depicted urban middle-class mixed-race women, and critics praised her for creating complex female characters constrained by society.In her groundbreaking Teaching to Transgress: Education as thePractice of Freedom, bell hooks contends that the classroom is a"location of possibility" and, as a result, "we have theopportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and ourcomrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face realityeven as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, totransgress" (1994, 206). In hooks' view, the most necessarytool for ending oppression is education, but not the type of educationthat teaches "obedience to authority" (4). Rather, hooks callsfor learning that fosters critical thinking, for it is through thiscritical thinking that "we"--teachers and students--can beginto change our own lives and the lives around us. In my experience as aprofessor of writing and literature, the lives, contexts, andcontributions of authors who "transgressed" in order toliberate themselves and others bring to life the very concept of"trangressive" creative acts. To this end, the phoenix-likeNella Larsen has proven, time and again, to be a class favorite andPassing always incites a productive cross-race/gender dialogue. Inshort, Larsen and her novel Passing successfully aid me in"teaching to transgress."