2020 55¢ Voices of Harlem – Nella Larsen
Value: 55¢ 1-ounce First-class rate (Forever)
Issue Date: May 21, 2020
First Day City: New York, NY
Type of Stamp: Commemorative
Printed by: Banknote Corporation of America
Printing Method: Offset
Format: Pane of 20
Quantity Printed: 16,000,000
Nella Larsen was born on April 13, 1891, in a low-income neighborhood of Chicago. Throughout childhood, Larsen had little exposure to African American culture. When she was old enough, Larsen’s mother encouraged her to enroll at Fisk University, a traditionally African American school in Nashville. Larsen’s mixed race stood out among the other students. Most were from the South and descended from former slaves.
After being expelled from Fisk in 1908 for violating its strict dress code and rules for women, Larsen moved to New York City. There, she trained as a nurse and later married Elmer Imes in 1919. Larsen published her first short stories soon after, drawing on her experiences as a mixed-race woman. Throughout her life, she was made to feel like an outsider for this, as well as for her low-income origins and lack of a college degree.
When Larsen and her husband moved to Harlem in 1920, Larsen really began to blossom as a writer. She continued developing short stories, but also wrote two novels, Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929). They were groundbreaking works and some of the first to focus on mixed race identity and the feeling of not belonging. It was this that made Larsen an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance and left a lasting impact on African American history.