Nella Larsen

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Nellallitea 'Nella' Larsen (first called Nellie Walker) (April 13, 1891 – March 30, 1964) was an American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance who wrote two novels and a few short stories. Though her literary output was scant, what she wrote earned her recognition by her contemporaries and by present-day critics.



Nella Larsen went by various names throughout her life. She was born in Chicago, Illinois, on April 13, 1891 as Nellie Walker. She was the daughter of Danish immigrant Marie Hanson and Peter Walker, a West Indian man of color from Saint Croix who soon disappeared from her life. Her mother was a domestic case worker.[1][2]. Taking the surname of her Scandinavian stepfather Peter Larsen,[1] Larsen also at times went by Nellye Larson, Nellie Larsen and, finally, Nella Larsen.[3] When she married, she sometimes used her married name Nella Larsen Imes.[4]

As a child, Larsen lived several years with her mother's relations in Denmark. In 1907-08, she briefly attended Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, a historically Black University. George Hutchinson speculates that she was expelled for some violation of Fisk's very strict dress or conduct codes; she then spent four years in Denmark, before returning to the U.S.[5]

In 1914, Larsen enrolled in the all-black nursing school at New York City's Lincoln Hospital. Upon graduating in 1915, she went South to work at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she became head nurse at a hospital and training school. While in Tuskegee, she came in contact with Booker T. Washington's model of education and became disillusioned with it. (Washington died shortly after Larsen arrived in Tuskegee.) Working conditions for nurses were poor; their duties included doing hospital laundry. Larsen lasted only until 1916, when she returned to New York to work again as a nurse. After working as a nurse through the Spanish flu pandemic, she left nursing and became a librarian.[4]

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