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Eric Walrond


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(1898–1966), short fiction writer, journalist, editor,

and figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Although his residence in the United States was brief, Eric D. Walrond made lasting contributions to African American literature and culture. Born in Georgetown, British Guiana, in 1898, Walrond was educated at St. Stephen's Boys' School in Barbados and public schools in Colón, Panama. He left Panama for a ten-year residence in New York (1918–1928), where he continued his education at City College and Columbia University. His experiences with racism in the United States impelled his early fiction and sparked his interest in Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). After withdrawing his support of the UNIA, Walrond became a protégé of Urban League director Charles S. Johnson. It was during his affiliation with Johnson that Walrond's 1926 collection of short stories, Tropic Death, was published in New York by Boni and Liveright.

As the collection's title indicates, Walrond's ten stories set in British Guiana, Barbados, and Panama thematize death and the destruction wrought by natural disasters, colonialism, and modernization. Prominent figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes praised the collection's impressionistic form and historical content, as did anonymous reviewers from the New York Times and the New York World. Critics such as Robert Bone and David Levering Lewis note the Gothic strains in “The Yellow One,” “The Wharf Rats,” and “The White Snake.” With the stories “Tropic Death” and “The Black Pin,” Walrond explores coerced migration, cultural displacement, and xenophobia, three central concerns of his life as well as his writing.

While impressive thematically and stylistically, the short fiction from Tropic Death constituted neither the first nor the last of Walrond's contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. In the early and mid-1920s, eight other stories thematizing race relations in New York and abroad were published in periodicals such as Smart Set and the New Republic. His fiction also appeared in Opportunity, including “Voodoo's Revenge,” for which he was awarded third prize in the magazine's 1925 literary contest. He published one more piece in 1927, “City Love,” before migrating to Europe, where he died in 1966.

Like Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Walrond began his writing career as a journalist, producing articles on Harlem and the Great Migration and nuanced critiques of contemporary African American leaders. From 1921 to 1923 he served as editor and co-owner of an African American weekly, the Brooklyn and Long Island Informer. His journalistic experience earned the respect of both Garvey and Johnson: Walrond was hired as associate editor of the UNIA's paper, Negro World (1923–1925), and business manager of the Urban League's Opportunity (1925–1927). An editor, journalist, and one of the first fiction writers to thematize migration and diaspora, Eric D. Walrond is an important, if overlooked, figure from the Harlem Renaissance. His manifold accomplishments during the 1920s ensure him a firm place in African American literary history.

Jay A. Berry, “Eric Walrond,” in DLB, vol. 51, Afro—American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940, eds. Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis, 1987, pp. 296–300.John E. Bassett, Harlem in Review: Critical Reactions to Black American Writers, 1917–1939, 1992.Louis J. Parascandola, ed., “Winds Can Wake Up the Dead”: An Eric Walrond Reader. 1998.


Subjects: Literature

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