A writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Nella Larsen wrote just two novels, published here, and a handful of short stories. Critically acclaimed, both speak powerfully of the contradictions and restrictions experienced by black women at that time. Quicksand, written in 1928, is an autobiographical novel about Helga Crane, a mixed race woman caught between fulfilling her desires and gaining respectability in her middle class neighbourhood. Written a year later, Passing tells the story of two childhood friends, Clare and Irene, both light skinned enough to pass as white. Reconnecting in adulthood, Clare has chosen to live as a white woman, while Irene embraces black culture and has an important role in her community. Nella Larsen's novels are moving, characterful, and important books. She pioneered writing about the conflicts of sexuality, race and the secret suffering of women in the early twentieth century.
Nella Larsen was born in Chicago in 1893 to a Danish mother and a West Indian father. She began writing during the Harlem Renaissance, a period during which black artists, writers, and musicians were prominent in the New York art scene. The success of Quicksand and Passing made Nella Larsen one of the most feted woman writers of her generation. She died in 1964 in obscurity.