#NationalPoetryMonth: Jessie R. Fauset

A photo of a poem by Jessie Fauset, title is "There is confusion" Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Thereisconfusioncropped.jpg

April is National Poetry Month. April is almost over, but better late than never. I thought that I’d share a poem by Jessie Redmond Fauset.

Harlem Renaissance writer, Jessie Redmond Fauset was a journalist, novelist, poet and civil rights advocate. She worked for the Crisis, which was an NAACP paper (founded by Dubois). The focus of many of her works was changing the perception of Black professionals. She brought the Black middle class into the limelight through her work during a time when Black people were routinely portrayed through a stereotypical lens. She pushed the Uncle Tom, Mammy and Aunt Jemima stereotypes aside and brought a more realistic, diverse portrayal of the Black middle class to life.

It makes sense that Fauset aimed to portray Black people in a more diverse, dignified light when you consider her background. Fauset was born April 27, 1882, in New Jersey and attended Philadelphia Highschool for Girls. She graduated as a valedictorian, possibly the first Black valedictorian. When she got older, she wanted to attend Bryn Mawr College, but they were so against accepting African-Americans that they were willing to pay for Fauset to attend another school of her choice. She chose to attend Cornell and graduated in 1905 with a degree in Classical Languages. Later, she earned her Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

She became a teacher in the segregated Dunbar school in Washington, DC, where she taught French/Latin. Fauset also spoke and taught French in Washington, DC and New York City and spent her summers studying at the renowned La Sorbonne in France.

She wrote four novels, represented the NAACP at the Pan African conference and co-authored the Black children’s literary magazine, The Brownies Book. 

She mentored Langston Hughes, the famous African-American Harlem poet and may have taught James Baldwin.

She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta.

Fauset married to Herbert Harris, at the age of 47, and died on April 30, 1961.

Without further ado, enjoy this poem by Jessie Fauset-

La Vie C’est la Vie

On summer afternoons, I sit

Quiescent by you in the park,

And idly watch the sunbeams gild

And tint the ash-trees' bark

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk

And chaffer in the grassy lane;

And all the while I mark you voice

Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give

Her chance of heaven to take my place;

To see the love-light in your eyes,

The love-glow on your face!

And there's a man whose lightest word

Can set my chilly blood afire;

Fulfillment of his least behest

Defines my life's desire.

But he will none of me,

Nor I Of you.

Nor you of her.

'Tis said

The world is full of jests like these.

I wish that I were dead.

To me, this poem speaks of love desired, but not realized. Perhaps the woman is giving all of herself and bargaining for love. Others look at her love in envy, but she wants to die. How do you interpret this poem. Am I not thinking deeply enough?

Notable Novels by Fauset:

  • There is Confusion
  • Plum Bun
  • The Chinaberry Tree

Source

Source 2

“In life there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”

The above quote is by Langston Hughes. If any words are a reflection of the Harlem Renaissance, I believe it’s those words. The Harlem Renaissance was the great REBIRTH of Black culture in the US. The beauty and vibrance of the Harlem Renaissance is forever embedded in the souls of our culture, not just in the United States, but around the world. Artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong were all at their height during the Harlem Renaissance and what they created touched people. The beauty, sophistication and cleverness that was unearthed during the Harlem Renaissance was a testament to the humanity and dignity of Black people everywhere. No one could tell us that we were inferior when we were creating art that changed the world.

The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the “New Negro Movement,” was the widespread birth of innovative and original Black art forms. The Harlem Renaissance spanned the 1920s- 1930s era and changed the course of the world. Jazz music was at its height during this time.Sometimes I wish that I had grown up during the Harlem Renaissance…the height of African-American literature, film, jazz,dance…everything. Just the bustling and booming expressions of Black Soul.

This was around the time that artists like Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong all blossomed and changed the course of America and the world. Together they created a rich and beautiful culture. What they created was more than just entertainment, they created art that enriched the lives and touched the souls of everyone. The jazz, the dance, the poetry, the paintings…such beauty and sorrow at the same time. I believe the Harlem Renaissance was as much about survival as it was about celebration.

In the midst of segregation, discrimination and widespread oppression, I believe that the culture is what held Black folks together. If black people couldn’t be free to sit on the bus, or free to go to the schools they wanted, then they were free in their arts. The arts that were created during the Harlem Renaissance brought freedom, vibrancy and hope to many people, black and non-black.

Check out the videos below

* The painting is by  Archibald Motley, a Harlem Renaissance painter.