One of the most sophisticated novelists to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance.
Nella Larsen was born to a Danish Mother and an African American father, who died when she was two.
Her mother then married a Danish man with whom she had another daughter. This made Nella the only
non- white member of her family.
In 1919, Nella married Dr Elmer Imes, a prominent physicist, a marriage, which brought her into contact
with New York's black upper classes. They became notable members of the Harlem social scene. Nella was
friends with many of the prominent writers of her time and was herself one of the most celebrated novelists
during the Harlem Renaissance.
She was awarded the Harmon Foundation's bronze medal for literature in 1929 and in 1930 became the first woman of colour to win the Guggenheim Fellowship.
Her two novels Quicksand and Passing are regarded as landmark examples of women of colour's attempts to explain their complex
identities in fiction.
Quicksand follows the life of a mixed-race woman torn between living a pampered life with her white relatives
in Denmark and trying to find a place for herself in Harlem. The character Helga Crane finds that she cannot
live comfortably with one race without yearning contact with the other.
Passing tells the story of two mixed-race women who meet up again after many years apart. They are clearly
drawn to each other, one having settled for a life in the black bourgeoisie and the other choosing to pass
Both novels deal with race, gender, class and sexuality. Readers will find an interesting contrast between
life in England and the segregated life that was America in the twenties and to a great extent still is today.
After an accusation of plagiarism and a highly publicised divorce, Nella removed herself from the public
eye and dedicated the rest of her life to nursing. She was found dead in her apartment in 1964.
Despite the obscurity towards the end of her life, Nella's reputation and writings have been resurrected.
She is now regarded by contemporary critics as one of the most sophisticated novelists to emerge from the
Harlem Renaissance.nious society.