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English professor edits new edition of ‘Cane’

A new Penguin Classics edition of Jean Toomer’s “Cane,” edited by George Hutchinson, the Newton C. Farr Professor of American Culture at Cornell, is a “book for our times,” according to a recent New York Times Book Review “Editors’ Choice” item.

“Not only was ‘Cane’ a tremendous influence upon the Harlem Renaissance and later African-American writing, it was produced by the same confluence of institutions and even individuals that helped produce the Harlem Renaissance,” Hutchinson writes in an essay for The New York Review of Books adapted from his introduction to “Cane.”

The 1923 novel is structured as a series of vignettes revolving around the origins and experiences of African-Americans. “Cane” sold modestly and went out of print quickly but was rediscovered in the 1960s.

The new edition features a foreword by novelist Zinzi Clemmons; a way, Hutchinson said, to demonstrate the continued relevance of “Cane” to a new generation. The book also corrects errors from previous editions and restores Toomer’s epigraph.

Hutchinson is the author of “The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White” as well as articles on Toomer and a prize-winning biography of Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen. His teaching and research focus on 19th- and 20th-century American literature.

“I actually edited and wrote an introduction to the book for Penguin Classics over 20 years ago that was supposed to be published in January 1999, but in October 1998 Congress passed a new copyright act extending copyright protection from 75 to 95 years, so Penguin had to shelve the project,” Hutchinson said. “As the 95-year deadline approached, Penguin contacted me again a year or so ago to ask if I was interested in rewriting the intro and annotations, which of course I was happy to do.”

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Gillian Smith