Nella Larsen

Nella Larsen ( born April 13, 1891 in Chicago, Illinois, † March 30, 1964 in New York City, New York), pseudonyms Nellie Walker, Nellye Larson, Nellie Larsen, was an African American writer who belonged to the literary movement of the Harlem Renaissance.


Nella Larsen, born Nellie Walker, was the daughter of the Danish dressmaker Marie Hanson Walker and that coming from Saint Croix Peter Walker. My Afro-Caribbean father deceived before his death in 1893 and took over in the new identity as a white Peter Larsen, a work on the railroad in Chicago. Since the winter semester 1907 Nella Larsen studied for three years at Fisk University in Nashville, which was founded in 1866 for black students.

From 1910 to 1912 she continued her claims to be studying at the University of Copenhagen on, a claim that is doubted by some scientists, since this could not find any other supporting documents. Then Nella Larsen was trained as a nurse at New York's Lincoln Hospital. After graduating in 1915 she moved to Tuskegee (Alabama ), where she rose to become the head nurse and taught at the nursing school. The educational theories Booker T. Washington, for which they are interested in a short time, she did not find convincing.

In 1916 she returned to New York. On May 3, 1919 married Nella Larsen and the physicist Elmer Imes. The marriage was divorced in 1933. 1920 Nella Larsen began writing and published in the children's magazine The Brownies ' Book, an article about children's games in Denmark. In 1922, she turned for health reasons a new field of work and became a librarian. This period was an intensive examination of the literature, especially with James Joyce, John Galsworthy, Walter Francis White and Carl Van Vechten.

In 1926 she learned authors of the Harlem Renaissance know. These included James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes. Walter White and Van Vechten mediated contacts to the publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

She gave up her job in order to devote himself henceforth to the letter can. 1928 published her first, autobiographical novel embossed Quicksand. For this purpose, Nella Larsen was awarded the Harmon Foundation. 1929 appeared Passing, her second novel.

1930 Larsen published the short story Sanctuary, who brings her accusations of plagiarism, because they having similarities to the short story Mrs. Adis by British author Sheila Kaye - Smith. Although the allegations should later turn out to be unfounded, they were enough for their withdrawal from the literary world. An operation funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship trip through Europe that could provide material for a third novel, remained without publication. The Guggenheim Fellowship was the first award of the Foundation for an African American woman. Larsen took 1933 to work as a nurse on.


Although the complete works of Nella Larsen has only two novels and several short stories, it is one of the well-known American authors: Her novels have the problem of racial segregation in the United States during the first half of the 20th century to the content. In her first novel Quicksand the story of Helga Crane is told. The protagonist is modeled on the author: The novel describes the efforts of the daughter of a Danish mother and a black father, to find a place in life, and their clashes with the black civil rights movement.

Passing is the story of two women who are regarded as ' mixed race ', although both are light-skinned enough to not be recognized as Black (german passing, ie " pass as white "). While a completely internalized their ' white ' identity and also a wealthy ' whites ' marries, she concealed her lineage, pulls the other to Harlem, designed their identity as blacks, marries a black doctor and takes enthusiastic part in the civil rights movement. The second part of the novel deals with the reunion of two childhood friends, and the admiration that pays each of the two lifestyles of each other. Nevertheless, the novel ends tragically: Clare, who lives as 'White ', is to her husband ' unmasked ', and apparently commits suicide after.

Larsen's novel, the sociological and literary theory concept of " passing", the not being known, significantly influenced as part of a minority, and has attained at American universities, however, now canonical status. The concept will be discussed again in recent American novels, such as Philip Roth's novel The Human Stain ( 2000).


  • Quicksand. Knopf, New York / London, 1928
  • Passing. Knopf, New York / London, 1929 German edition: page change. German Adelheid Dormagen. Dörlemann, Zurich 2011, ISBN 978-3-908777-67-0