Students in field

Dekker helps to publish 80-year-old Jean Toomer manuscript

April 25, 2016

Finlandia University Assistant Professor of English Dr. Carolyn Dekker played the key role of editor in the recently published book A Drama of the Southwest: The Critical Edition of a Forgotten Play. The book is put together from a manuscript written by famous writer Jean Toomer, who passed away in 1967. The heavily credited Harlem Renaissance author wrote the play back in 1935. The unpolished manuscript found the hands of Dekker, and was published in February of this year.

Book cover for A Drama of the Southwest“I found it in the archives, it was in the Beinecke Library at Yale,” said Dekker. “They have all of Toomer’s paper. They have feet and feet of his stuff. There were four acts of his play that were typed, but then three more folders that were handwritten.”

Dekker, a New Jersey native, Williams College and University of Michigan alum started working with the manuscript in 2013. Although she did include back and forth letters between Toomer and his wife Margery, Dekker did not add anything to the historical play.

“In many cases, the manuscript was out of order,” said Dekker. “I was able to arrange it properly, and I found there was more there than people gave credit to.”

Dekker wants the influential Toomer to get the credit he deserves.

“He’s an American high modernist like William Faulkner,” Dekker said. “One of the things that really excited me about this project is because this is only really the second time that a full-length book of his is published.”

“To be able to go into the archives and be one of the first people to work with these papers, and have it go out in the world as a book makes me really excited.”

About Jean Toomer and the book (courtesy of University of New Mexico Press)

Jean Toomer (1894-1967), a modernist writer, a member of the Harlem Renaissance, and briefly part of the literary and artistic community that grew up around Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos, New Mexico. This book, a critical edition of a previously unpublished 1935 manuscript, makes A Drama of the Southwest available to readers for the first time. The play provides a vivid glimpse into the social world of the artists who mined Taos for creative and spiritual renewal in the early twentieth century, and editor Dekker provides cultural and literary historical context, arguing for Toomer’s continuing creative power and significance at a time in his career that has been largely overlooked by critics.

About Dr. Carolyn Dekker

Dr. Carolyn Dekker teaches writing and American literature at Finlandia University. She holds a PhD in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, where her dissertation research focused on how American literature responds to the atomic bomb. She loves to teach environmental literature, war literature, and American literature and she strives to help every one of her students become a better writer.

This book will be available shortly at North Wind Books and is currently available through Amazon or University of New Mexico Press.

This story was put together by FinnU Work Study student Sean Appling-Daniels.

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