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This Day in Georgia History

December 26, 1894

Jean Toomer Born

Writer Jean (Eugene) Toomer was born in Washington, D.C., son of an allegedly white man and a mulatto woman. Toomer was raised primarily by a domineering grandfather after his father abandoned the family. Toomer’s future was largely focused on his struggle with the authoritarianism of his grandfather and the ambiguity of his race. While he was light-skinned enough to pass for white, he felt kinship with blacks. After studying at several places in the North, he came to Georgia in 1921 as a temporary superintendent of a school - where he was able to observe the lives of rural blacks and explore his own ethnic background. Resulting from this was Cane, published in 1923 and Toomer’s only work that is remembered. Cane was an autobiographical work - but not openly so. Written in a unique style, it is composed of poems, short stories, and a play with subtle interrelating themes. After its publication, Toomer became involved in mysticism and veered away from his interesting his heritage. While none of his other writings were notable, Cane remains a classic, if difficult to understand, work of American literature. Toomer died in Doylestown, Pa. on March 30, 1967.