Eric Walrond (1898–1966) was a writer, journalist, caustic critic, and fixture of 1920s Harlem. His short story collection, Tropic Death, was one of the first efforts by a black author to depict Caribbean lives and voices in American fiction. Restoring Walrond to his proper place as a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance, this biography situates Tropic Death within the author’s broader corpus and positions the work as a catalyst and driving force behind the New Negro literary movement in America.
Recasting Walrond’s personal and professional trajectory, James Davis follows the author from the West Indies to Panama to New York, France, and finally England. He intimately recounts his relationships with New Negro authors such as Countée Cullen, Charles S. Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, and Gwendolyn Bennett, as well as the white novelist Carl Van Vechten; addresses his involvement with Marcus Garvey’s journal Negro World and the National Urban League journal Opportunity; and examines Walrond’s work for mainstream venues, including Vanity Fair. In 1929, Walrond severed ties with Harlem, but he did not disappear. He contributed to the burgeoning anticolonial movement and print culture centered in England and fueled by C. L. R. James, George Padmore, and other Caribbean expatriates. His history of Panama, shelved by his publisher during the Great Depression, was the first to be written by a West Indian author. Unearthing documents in England, Panama, and the United States, and incorporating interviews, criticism of Walrond’s fiction and journalism, and a sophisticated account of transnational black cultural formations, Davis builds an eloquent and absorbing narrative of an overlooked figure and his creation of modern American and world literature.
James Davis is associate professor of English and American studies at Brooklyn College. The recipient of a fellowship at the Leon Levy Center for the Study of Biography, he is also the author of Commerce in Color: Race, Consumer Culture, and American Literature, 1893–1933.