Nella Larsen


Born: 1891
Birthplace: Chicago


The only Black person in her family when she was growing up, Larsen always felt like an outsider. Born Nellie Walker, she lost her West Indian father when she was two and her Danish mother remarried a Danish man. Larsen attended Fisk University, and the University of Copenhagen, and studied nursing in New York. While working as a nurse she married Dr. Samuel Elmer Imes, a prominent Black physicist, who brought Larsen into Harlem's upper class. After publishing two essays on Danish children's games, Larsen wrote two novels, Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). She won the Harmon Foundation's Bronze Medal for Literature in 1929, and in 1930 became the first Black woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. Although her publisher strongly defended her, Larsen was hurt by allegations of plagiarism and in 1933 she went through a humiliating public divorce. Saying she was emigrating to South America, Larsen moved to New York's Lower East Side and worked as a nurse for 30 years. Larsen is regarded as one of the most sophisticated Harlem Renaissance novelists.

Died: 3/30/1964


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