Jean Toomer

Like Cullen, African-American fiction writer and poet Jean Toomer envisioned an American identity that would transcend race. Perhaps for this reason, he brilliantly employed poetic traditions of rhyme and meter and did not seek out new "black" forms for his poetry. His major work, Cane (1923), is ambitious and innovative, however. Like Williams's Paterson, Cane incorporates poems, prose vignettes, stories, and autobiographical notes. In it, an African-American struggles to discover his selfhood within and beyond the black communities in rural Georgia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Illinois, and as a black teacher in the South. In Cane, Toomer's Georgia rural black folk are naturally artistic:

Their voices rise...the pine trees are guitars,
Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain...
Their voices rise...the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars...(I, 21-24)

Cane contrasts the fast pace of African-American life in the city of Washington:

Money burns the pocket, pocket hurts,
Bootleggers in silken shirts,
Ballooned, zooming Cadillacs,
Whizzing, whizzing down the street-car tracks. (II, 1-4)