Jean Toomer is known today for the one successful book of his career, the novel Cane, published in 1923. Based in part upon his brief experience in the South as a school teacher, Cane was perhaps the first genuinely experimental novel by an African American writer responding to the liberating form of modernist narrative techniques as well as to the deepest and most primal roots of black folk culture in both the South and the North. As such, it reflects in its form the identity conflict that the novel's interwoven stories and poems address. Cane is unique for its blend of poetic language and psychological and moral realism; it established Toomer as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. However, Toomer soon was absorbed in his own spiritual education. He eventually became a Quaker and spent most of the last part of his life in seclusion.
Rudolph P. Byrd is Associate Professor in The Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University. Byrd has also published Traps (IUP, 2001) and I Call Myself an Artist (IUP, 1999). He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was born on September 16, 1950, in Keyser, West Virginia. He received a degree in history from Yale University in 1973 and a Ph.D. from Clare College, which is part of the University of Cambridge in 1979. He is a leading scholar of African-American literature, history, and culture. He began working on the Black Periodical Literature Project, which uncovered lost literary works published in 1800s. He rediscovered what is believed to be the first novel published by an African-American in the United States. He republished the 1859 work by Harriet E. Wilson, entitled Our Nig, in 1983. He has written numerous books including Colored People: A Memoir, A Chronology of African-American History, The Future of the Race, Black Literature and Literary Theory, and The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism. In 1991, he became the head of the African-American studies department at Harvard University. He is now the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at the university. He wrote and produced several documentaries including Wonders of the African World, America Beyond the Color Line, and African American Lives. He has also hosted PBS programs such as Wonders of the African World, Black in Latin America, and Finding Your Roots.