GREAT BOOKS 10: Nella Larsen's Passing, with Emily Bernard
Nella Larsen's gripping 1929 novel Passing recounts the fateful encounter, first on a fancy Chicago hotel rooftop restaurant on a sweltering August afternoon and later in New York City, of two women who grew up together and then lost touch, and who can pass from being black to white, and back again -- with devastating moral and social consequences. The book examines the American mythology of race, and its real-world effects, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance and during a time when racial segregation regulated the lives of all Americans and severely disadvantaged African-Americans in nearly all aspects of existence. Many people chose to escape this injustice by 'passing' for white, which gave Larsen the idea to examine race and racism in a powerful work of fiction. I spoke with Professor Emily Bernard, Julian Lindsay Green & Gold Professor at the University of Vermont and the author of many award-winning books, including: Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten; Some of My Best Friends: Writers on Interracial Friendship; Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs; Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White, and the 2019 Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine.