First published to critical acclaim in 1929, Passing firmly established Nella Larsen's prominence among women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. The Modern Library is proud to present Passing an electrifying story of two women who cross the color line in 1920s New York together with a new Introduction by the Obie Award- winning playwright and novelist Ntozake Shange.
Irene Redfield, the novel's protagonist, is a woman with an enviable life. She and her husband, Brian, a prominent physician, share a comfortable Harlem town house with their sons. Her work arranging charity balls that gather Harlem's elite creates a sense of purpose and respectability for Irene. But her hold on this world begins to slip the day she encounters Clare Kendry, a childhood friend with whom she had lost touch. Clare light-skinned, beautiful, and charming tells Irene how, after her father's death, she left behind the black neighborhood of her adolescence and began passing for white, hiding her true identity from everyone, including her racist husband. As Clare begins inserting herself into Irene's life, Irene is thrown into a panic, terrified of the consequences of Clare's dangerous behavior. And when Clare witnesses the vibrancy and energy of the community she left behind, her burning desire to come back threatens to shatter her careful deception.
Brilliantly plotted and elegantly written, Passing offers a gripping psychological portrait of emotional extremity. The New York Times Book Review called Larsen "adroit at tracing the involved processes of a mind divided against itself, that fights between the dictates of reason and desire." The Saturday Review of Literature said, " Larsen] has produced a work so fine, sensitive, and distinguished that it rises above race categories and becomes that rare object, a good novel.
About the Author
Carla Kaplan is the Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. She is the author of "The Erotics of Talk: Women's Writing and Feminist Paradigms, Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters", and "Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance" (forthcoming). She is also editor of "Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk Tales from the Gulf States" and "Dark Symphony and Other Works by Elizabeth Laura Adams".
Ntozake Shange, poet, novelist, playwright, and performer, wrote the Broadway-produced and Obie Award-winning "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf." She has also written numerous works of fiction, including "Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, Betsy Brown, " and "Liliane."
"[Nella Larsen's novels] open up a whole world of experience and struggle that seemed to me, when I first read them years ago, absolutely absorbing, fascinating, and indispensable."
"[Nella Larsen] offers characters so honest and desperate to be whole that we cannot help but champion their humanity."
--From Ntozake Shange's Introduction