Nella Larsen was born April 13, 1891, in Chicago, Illinois. She was born to a Black West Indian father and a Danish mother. Her father died when she was only two years old. She had no memories of him and knew very little about him. Her mother remarried a Danish man. Nella often found herself the only Black person in all-White environments.
Similar to her home life, Larsen’s school was predominantly White. She went to school in Chicago with her half-sister, the daughter of the Danish man that her mother married. She moved to Tennessee in 1907. There, she attended Fisk University’s Normal School. Attending Fisk was her introduction to a predominantly Black environment.
After only a year at Fisk, Larsen traveled to Denmark. She spent 1909-1912 in Denmark with relatives. There, she audited courses at the University of Copenhagen. Once she returned to the U.S., she attended the Lincoln Hospital Training School for Nurses in New York City.
Once she completed the program in 1915, Larsen moved to Alabama. There, she began working at John A. Andrew Hospital and Nurse Training School. She later worked for the City Department of Health in New York. In 1919, she married a Black physicist, named Elmer Samuel Imes. Shortly thereafter, she left the nursing field.
In 1922, Larsen began working at the New York Public Library. She worked there until 1926. She immediately embarked upon her literary career. In 1928, she wrote and published her first novel, Quicksand. Her novel was a combination of autobiographical accounts interlaced with fiction. It explored the intersectionality of racism and marginalization of Black middle-class women.
As a result of Quicksand, Larsen won the Harmon Foundation’s bronze medal. Furthermore, she also became an important writer of the Harlem Renaissance. The following year, her second novel, Passing, was published. This novel earned her the Guggenheim Fellowship. She was the first Black woman in America to receive this fellowship.
While writing her third novel in Spain, Larsen endured several hardships. She was accused of plagiarism but was ultimately found innocent. She also discovered that her husband had been having an affair. Unable to mend their marriage, she moved to Tennessee where she got a divorce. With the stock market crash of 1929, there was not enough money to fund her writing, so she never finished her third novel.
After Larsen’s former husband died in 1941, her alimony payments ceased. She had no choice but to return to nursing in order to survive. She worked at Bethel Hospital in Brooklyn for the remainder of her career. Nella Larsen died March 30, 1964, in Brooklyn, New York. She was 70 years old.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer. Thank you.**