Induction ceremony and unveiling of commemorative stone to take place on Sunday, November 12
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine will celebrate the legacy of American novelist, poet, and essayist Jean Toomer (1894 –1967) with his induction into its American Poets Corner on Sunday, November 12, from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM, at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), Manhattan.
Toomer’s formal induction will take place during the traditional Evensong service sung by the Cathedral Choir and conducted by Director of Cathedral Music Kent Tritle, featuring the traditional African American spiritual “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho,” arranged by Moses Hogan. The Sunday Evensong will also include comments by Marilyn Nelson, the Cathedral’s Poet in Residence. Joining Marilyn Nelson for this celebration will be a number of the distinguished writers who make up the Cathedral’s Board of Electors to the Poets Corner, along with special guest, poet and editor Quraysh Ali Lansana.
Throughout Toomer’s life and work, the issue of racial identity, especially race as a binary both fateful and profound, was an irritant and a beguilement. Jean Toomer was born Nathan Pinchback Toomer in Washington, DC, in 1894. His grandfather, P.B.S. Pinchback, was a Union soldier and the first person of African-American descent to serve as (acting) governor of a U.S. state (Louisiana, during Reconstruction). As a child in segregated Washington, D.C., Toomer was identified as black and attended all-black schools; later on, in New Rochelle, NY, he was identified as white and attended an all-white school. From an early age, Toomer felt both black and white, or perhaps neither, in an either-or society.
As a young man Toomer settled in New York City and began publishing stories and poems, becoming welcomed as an influential member of the Harlem Renaissance arts movement of the 1920s. The novel Cane, published in 1923, is considered his masterpiece, uniting Southern folklore with a profoundly modernist exploration of the complexities of racial identity and the fully realized New American self.
The American Poets Corner was established in 1984 to memorialize and celebrate American writers. Previous inductees include Emily Dickinson, e e cummings, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, and last year’s honoree, Eugene O’Neill.
For more information, please visit https://www.stjohndivine.org/visit/calendar/events/liturgy-worship/14701/evensong-the-induction-of-jean-toomer.