Literature

Literature of the Harlem Renaissance Era

What black writer was the first to publish a detective novel in book form?

In 1932 Rudolph Fisher (1897–1934) became the first black writer to publish a detective novel in book form, The Conjure Man Dies, which revealed Fisher’s medical and scientific knowledge within the storyline. The Federal Theater Project at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem produced his work as a play posthumously in 1936. In 2001 it was brought back to life and ran through February 11 at the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of New York City. Fisher was born in Washington, D.C., and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Brown University. He received his medical degree from Howard University Medical School in 1924. The next year Fisher continued his medical education at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After that he trained for years in bacteriology, pathology, and roentgenology, becoming a radiologist. Fisher was said to have been conflicted over his involvement in two disparate professions—medicine and creative writing—but managed to do well in both. He wrote a number of very good short stories and two novels (including The Walls of Jericho, 1928), in addition to his detective novel. He was considered one of the wittiest of the Harlem Renaissance group. Fisher died of cancer in 1934, while he worked on a dramatization of The Conjure Man Dies. He was only thirty-seven years old.



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