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The Fire in the Flint Greenwood Press Reprint Walter Francis White

30th April 2011 History Books 20 Comments

Written by a lifelong champion of civil rights, this is the story of Kenneth Harper, a young black physician who, after having studied in the North in the early part of the twentieth century and believing the days of oppression for blacks in the South were waning, returns to his hometown of Central City in South Georgia to practice medicine. Harper finds all too soon that the roots of intolerance grow deep. As he becomes increasingly aware of the ways in which the black community remains enslaved, Harper helps local sharecroppers organize a cooperative society to share in the economic freedom traditionally reserved for white landowners. The Ku Klux Klan is quickly rallied into action, and Harper finds himself in a violent and vengeful battle with the Klan. Amid the story’s tragedy and violence, White reflects the complex nuances of humanity within white and black communities in conflict.

White’s 1924 novel tells the story of Kenneth Harper, a young black doctor who, after receiving his medical degree, returns to his Southern home to face segregation and racism. His defiance of oppression results in a confrontation with the Klan.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

“White has poured all that he knows, all that he has observed in years, all that he has dreamed and all that he has experienced, interpreting everything with his own passion and leaving art to take care of itself. The result is a stirring novel, beautifully and passionately written.”–The Nation –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

“White has poured all that he knows, all that he has observed in years, all that he has dreamed and all that he has experienced, interpreting everything with his own passion and leaving art to take care of itself. The result is a stirring novel, beautifully and passionately written.”–The Nation –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

The Fire in the Flint

  • 20 responses to "The Fire in the Flint Greenwood Press Reprint Walter Francis White"

  • Jim Levitt
    15:24 on April 30th, 2011
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    Written in Post-Emancipation America, Jean Toomer’s novel Cane represented a strong voice within the African-American community during an era where segregation was a way of life, and lynching was (in some areas of the country) an accepted means to an end. A conglomeration of images and metaphors, Cane is honestly a difficult text to read and should not be considered merely as an “easy” set of poems, prose, and stories. There are many intricate layers of meaning within the phrasing and style of writing. The title is a double meaning in itself. Upon hearing the title, one may think that it refers to the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. This is an important aspect since some religious Christian followers interpreted the “mark” of Cain as blackness, therefore using religion as propaganda for pro-slavery agendas. In addition, readers who are more conscious minded to the dynamics of the early 1900′s concerning race relations, and its history (specifically in the South) would find this text less confusing. Some sections, which stand out within the text, are “Becky”, “Song of Son”, and “Blood Red Harvest”.

  • nedendir
    16:50 on April 30th, 2011
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    The reason I rate “The Fire in the Flint” five stars is because it is one of the many novels (books as a whole) written by very intelligent African American authors, which do not receive their just due by the mainstream press. Those in the know about the type of society we live in realize that certain books, certain films, certain plays which are truly outstanding, get ignored for reasons that are part of an agenda sometimes unnoticed even by those pushing the agenda. Through this novel (NAACP executive secretary Walter White’s first, and I think only one), White proved that he knew from where the South’s and this nation’s racial problem sprang. Had he not chosen a career as a civil rights leader, and instead, become a full-time novelist, this book proves that eventually he could easily have ranked as high in stature as the best serious novelists in the country. But, obviously, he had his own reasons for pursuing the career path that he did. No doubt, some of those reasons had to do with pragmatism. Nevertheless, this is a very impressive first effort, given that it is alleged that White wrote the entire novel only in a matter of weeks while on a vacation.

    Imagine what he might have written had he taken a year or two, to refine his theme and narrative? And rest assured, there are PLENTY of other African Americans of White’s era who, no doubt, had similar creative talent. Let “The Fire in the Flint” be a lesson to all of us, regarding what we truly DO NOT know about plenty of talented, impressive people, primarily forgotten by history, as well as those not even written up in the history books.

  • Analyzethis
    4:18 on May 1st, 2011
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    There appear to be several tangled threads in CANE that join the three parts of the book together. The first thread unifying the collection of poetry and prose is the way it was put together. In book one you have the narrator observing rural negroes in the south. In book two you have the narrator express-ing the discontent of urban negroes. Then, in book three, you have old Kabnis, a northern negro, trying to escape his pain by returning to his roots in rural Georgia. Coming full-circle. And yet not. Part Two should come first, with its discontented youth, then “Kabnis”, then Part One. Why does Toomer choose to progress from spiritual unity to disunity? Is it because the book truly represents a cycle which has no beginning and no end? A clue to this is in two poems, “Reapers” and “Harvest Song”. Both are written on related topics, and yet “Reapers” is the first poem of the book, and “Harvest Song” the last. In “Reapers” a rat is injured by a scythe, and yet “the blade, blooded-stained, continues cutting weeds and shade” oblivious to or uncaring of the rat’s injuries and pain. In “Harvest Song” the narrator is a reaper who, at the end of the day, with his work still unfinshed, fears his own hunger so much that he distracts himself with pain, “…My pain is sweet…It will not bring me knowledge of my hunger.” What, exactly, is it that Toomer’s characters hunger for?

    Another thread appears to me to be the striving for unity. This desire for unity is expressed in the ways in which the men and women in CANE strive toward unity in their relation-ships. Admittedly, they fail miserably. The women in the book are terribly one-sided–sex objects that are either passive, as with Karintha and Fern and Avey, or active, as with Carma and Louisa and Bona. However, for all their being available physically, the females Toomer portrays in his cameos are untouchable or out of reach spiritually. The men are also one-sided–rational and yet passionate, often overcome by lust and rage. These probably function to demonstrate Toomer’s personal views on what men and women are, and how their desires for unity in healthy relation-ships produces a significant amount of pain as a result of their oppositeness.

    Pain is yet another thread that unifies the poetry, sketches, stories and drama of CANE. After all is experienced, the pain is what is left, the only significant fruit of their struggles. In Part One, the pain everyone suffers seems to be symbolized by the ever-present cane. The cane, which can cut the skin, must be ground, the juice boiled and cooled, in order to obtain it sweetness. Is the pain which the characters savor the sweetness in their lives? And if so, wouldn’t the cane also represent the sweetness (pain) in their lives? In Part Two, which takes place in the urban North, the Negroes live repressed, frustrated, and sadly warped lives. The pain is intellectualized, yet it is still there, doubly so. Is this a result of being separated from the soil–that which is perceived to be source of their spirituality–as well as their failure to form meaningful relationships? The pain in “Kabnis” is more incoherent, the pain of an urban negro who has returned to his roots only to find that he cannot accept them, is alienated by them.

    It is impossible to discuss all of the tangled threads that weave CANE into the powerfully moving and unorthodox novel of Toomer’s voyage of self-discovery. It is often incoherent, filled with evocative recurrent images, and powerful character sketches that leave the reader unfulfilled, confused, and hungry for more. Perhaps it is Toomer’s own hunger, expressed in his writing, that the reader picks up. If there was more to the novel, perhaps one could pin down the more elusive points. Then again, perhaps not.

  • Seano
    9:14 on May 1st, 2011
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    Women play a dramatic role throughout Jean Toomer’s eyebrow raising novel, Cane. In Cane, Toomer depicts the lives of many women who are misunderstood by the world around them. Through each dramatic story we are introduced to different characters that all tell a story, a story that spells out the racism and virtual element of sadness that has overcome Georgia and everything in it’s path. Cane is not only a novel, but also a learning lesson of the changing times and real true to life struggles that innocent victims had to endure. After experiencing cane, we are introduced to another world that we have never known, forever changing our mindset of the world around us. Not only was Cane a dramatic learning tool, but also an irreplaceable piece of literature that will forever remain in our thoughts and our minds generation after generation touching each reader that is lucky enough to have inhaled it’s beauty. One of Cane’s greatest acheivements is in the way you have to find the beauty within each character through understanding Georgia’s mindset. Toomer truly challenges our minds to relate to each and every character, be it man or woman, and understand and appreciate each and every struggle and hardship, and once we can feel their pain we too have a little purple in our hearts.

  • pop frame
    12:05 on May 1st, 2011
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    I write this review with the realization that it is likely to be unpopular, nevertheless, I found the book to be very trying. While I can appreciate the modernist approach which was employed years before its time, the experimental nature of the writing had my head spinning. The text itself is a mixed bag that includes not only prose, but poetry and drama as well. Toomer insisted on these pieces being put together to form a novel, but I cannot help but feel many of the inclusions would have faired better standing alone. In my particular reading experience, I found that many of the pieces do not interlock or even coincide, which produces a sort of start-and-stop reading ordeal. There is simply no fluidity in the text.
    Toomer was of mixed heritage, so the book is rife with ambivalence and a proverbial tug-of-war between “light and dark.” It has been pointed out that Toomer was very much influenced by Picasso’s cubism and worked to recreate this in his literature. As far as I know, Toomer and Gertrude Stein are the only two to have done this, and the effect is arrantly vertiginous in both cases.
    In literary circles, this book is considered a must-read in African-American literature, and for that reason, it should be read and contemplated. However, if you are looking for leisure reading, I would suggest something else. The book is only 112 pages long, but I found that it somehow seemed rather “Victorian” in length. It is by no means fast.
    In defense of the book, I think my problem with it is a result of preferring prose over poetry and drama. If you are a reader that likes all genres equally, you may find this considerably more enjoyable.
    Suggested Af/Am Lit: Wright’s Black Boy, Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, and Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi.

  • TrafficWarden
    12:30 on May 1st, 2011
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    Just a few words are available to me because there has been some time since my first reading of Toomer’s work and this review. Cane, as I remember it, is odd and beautiful. Portions of poetic text are offered at strange times in unwieldy fashion. The need to go back and re-read to follow a thread is almost constant. If you are a reader and lover of simple things pass this piece: Leave it. However if you don’t mind a little work and a lot of reward pick it up, read it, take its beauty to heart and treasure it. I am about to go through it again. I am about to be reminded that there is poetry in this world. I am about to be disturbed. On my next reading I hope to be as lost as on my first; I hope that leads me to read it again.

  • oldschool
    20:42 on May 1st, 2011
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    Forgive the pseudo-pretentious title, but I have been terribly enamored with this work for quite some time. I originally read this work in a course on literary modernism and have since re-approached the work two or three times. Toomer’s novel deals explicitly with the intersection of race and sexuality. It can be quite graphic–what the novel suggests is more visceral than any of its literal depictions. While it is a collection of short stories, I’ve rarely encountered a compilation text that is so united and which flows with such unrivaled grace. The novel possesses a sort of dark music that becomes ingrained in your mind. You can almost here the melodies of the slave songs that litter Toomer’s stories. It is a symphonic work of idiosyncratic experimentation, but the work is unique among modernist texts insofar as it explores both the realms of culture and consciousness with a sense of equality: neither is forsaken for the other subject. I believe it should be required reading for any student of literature, and I certainly hope that its audience continues to grow.

  • Karla Shelton
    2:04 on May 2nd, 2011
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    This is perhaps one of my favorite works of literature I’ve ever read. This piece of literature uses poetry and short stories to portray the vast experiences of Afican-Americans in America. This novel (of sorts) opens your eyes and does so subtly and beautifully through various characters and the experiences they go through or fight against. Although written over fify years ago, Toomer’s work relates well to the problems/concerns of race in America today. I feel this should be a required work in studying Modern American Literature and the African-American Experience. If there is a firm “canon” ever established, this should be included.

  • J Y Vance
    21:24 on May 2nd, 2011
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    The writing prompt for this week’s participants in the Literary Blog Hop over at the Blue Bookcase website is what is the most difficult literary work you’ve ever read? What made it so difficult? The question immediately to mind the book I’m currently reading, Cane by Jean Toomer – and the problems I’m having finishing it.

    I have tried; sincerely, honestly tried. To be honest, it’s not because the book is unreadable or because I don’t like it. I do like it and it is readable. However, I’m finding it difficult to read Cane like a regular novel. There are no main characters and/or narrators. Perhaps I’m being too linear but it seems as if the only thing holding the diverse set of characters together is Sparta, the early twentieth-century rural Georgia town they all inhabit. Toomer wrote the town in such a way that it seems hell bent on being the stage on which the stories and poems are presented and he did so with a clear mastery of language. Cane is undeniably visual and therein lies the reason I find it difficult to read it continuously. The short prose pieces are so packed with imagery I think of them more as vignettes; literary vignettes I can put down, ponder over and return to.

    As I end part one, I find myself putting it down to ponder some of the characters, particularly Karintha. On the surface, the two page chapter on Karintha appears to deal with what today would be called pedophilia:

    Men had always wanted her, this Karintha, even as a child. Karintha carrying beauty, perfect as dusk when the sun goes down. Old men rode her hobby-horse upon their knees. Young men danced with her at frolics when they should have been dancing with their grown-up girls. God grant us youth, secretly prayed the old men. The young fellows counted the time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them. This interest of the male, who wishes to ripe a growing thing too soon, could mean no good to her.

    I found myself curious as to why Toomer, a Harlem Renaissance writer, would choose to start Cane with such a topic. Why have the opening gambit be a tale about how a young girl in the process of growing up became the town prostitute? In fact, the majority of the stories in the section I’ve read so far focus on women. So much so, that I found myself noticing similarities with some of Toomer’s literary descendants; particularly Alice Walker (setting) and Ntozake Shange (language).

    I know Alice Walker read Toomer. In In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, she wrote the following:

    A few of us will realize that Cane was not only his finest work but that it is also in part based on the essence of stories told to Toomer by his grandmother, she of the `dark blood’ to whom the book is dedicated, and that many of the women in Cane are modled on the tragic indecisiveness and weakness of his mother’s life. I also wondered if he received flack for writing about the abuse some black women experience as Walker and Shange did. Cane was for Toomer a double `swan song.’ He meant it to memorialize a culture he thought was dying, whose folk spirit he considered beautiful, but he was also saying good-bye to the `Negro’ he felt dying in himself. Cane then is a parting gift, and no less precious because of that. I think Jean Toomer would want us to keep its beauty, but let him go.

    Well, as I said in the beginning, I am letting go of the book for now. What I term Cane’s vignette style, in my opinion, doesn’t support a straight through to the end type of reading. Nonetheless it is still highly valued literature for its written-with-love and extremely lyrical depictions of life in the town of Sparta, Georgia and I will definitely complete it.

  • webdiva
    6:55 on May 3rd, 2011
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    Alice Walker once said of Cane that she “could not possibly exist without it.” I feel the same way. This is the most glorious, complex, heartwrenchingly beautiful collection of poems and prose that I have ever encountered. Toomer was a lyrical, insightful writer. He was someone who understood and could convey pain. Whatever racial classification people may settle upon, it is clear that Toomer was influenced by the black experience in the U.S. — Cane reads like jazz sometimes, like blues at other times, and every once in awhile like gospel; in any case it is musical, rhythmic, and it gets to your soul.

  • Ripel
    8:48 on May 3rd, 2011
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    I think this was the third time I started Cane, and I’m glad to have finished it, though, and I mean this as a compliment, it isn’t the kind of book that begs to be finished. It has a strong mood that I remembered instantly from previous readings even though the plots and particular characters had been forgotten.

  • Juana Cruz
    12:08 on May 3rd, 2011
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    It was a product of the Harlem Renaissance. It was published in 1923 in a small edition. Toomer believed that in CANE he was writing of a way of life that was dying.

    CANE is a collection of poetry and prose. It contains portraits and descriptions. Toomer was something of a detached observer. He questioned the harmonies and values of his society.

    In the Norton Critical Edition the material at the back of the volume includes biographical and critical information. In an autobiographical section Toomer states that CANE was a swan song. He consciously sought to embody in the work the folk spirit.

    Before Toomer began to write he thought of becoming a composer. Critic Gorham Munson writes that CANE is the projection of a vivid personality.

  • John Baxter
    15:03 on May 3rd, 2011
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    This book is not as unkown as the reviews above suggest. The book is on the reading list of some history and American Lit courses at the University of Georgia. I discovered the book in a display on Georgia History at a shopping mall near Atlanta. I was then able to check it out of my local library. I thought the book was excellent. Unfortunately, the Klan was at its peak in 1924, the same year the book was published. Unfortunately Mr. White knew was he was talking about.

  • Karla Shelton
    20:25 on May 3rd, 2011
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    I read Cane for the first time when I was a Freshman in college. I believe that it was the first time that I’d noticed how beautiful it is when the energy of poetry is fused with prose fiction. Particularly interesting is the fact that, while Toomer wrote a deep portrayal of the issues of race in America at that time, he functioned more as an anthropologist than an insider for, while he was black, he was descended from the socially detached black middle class and had to learn about most aspects of black culture through observation rather than experience. This makes the work that much more powerful. I especially loved to read “Blood Burning Moon”, a story about the fatal competition between a black and white man for the affections of a young, alluring black woman. All in all, Cane is not to be missed by anyone who digs poetry/prose fusion or anyone who loves the romance of language.

  • cjinsd
    3:00 on May 4th, 2011
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    Thank god this book resurfaced in the 70′s… had it not, a treasure would have certainly been lost.

  • robotech
    16:39 on May 4th, 2011
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    One of the best books I have read. Just don’t try to categorize it. Perhaps it is the freedom from a “format” that makes it so creative. He tells little stories about people with such power and reflections on the sexual the spiritual the racial the natural world. It is prose poetry. I have not even finished reading it yet! I urge you to by this edition which includes critical essays on CANE. Not that they can ever truly dissect it — that’s what makes it so great. So, he didn’t consider himself black — probably neither does Michael Jackson — and he’s still a genious. The WORK is what is important.

  • pop frame
    19:30 on May 4th, 2011
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    As a casual read this book is not something you want to pick up. The plots are subtle and the presentation is almost inaccessable if you’re planning on using this book as a bed-time read.

    However, if you’re willing to make a commitment to give this book the close reading it deserves, you may find yourself surprised. I highly recommend this edition with the critical essays in back–it may help make some sense of the book–especially the Reilly and Watkins’ essays. Well worth the time spent!

  • jorge robert
    2:33 on May 5th, 2011
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    Written back in 1923, CANE is one of the touchstones of African-American writing. Jean Toomer, despite his rather uncertain relationship with the African side of his ancestry, must be recognized as a founder. That said, this is a pale, difficult book, wandering sadly through the tempest-tossed fortunes of African-American life in the first decades of the 20th century. CANE is not for the casual reader, nor for those who want to be fed meaning. You must reflect, add to the text from your own knowledge and experience. The characters appear in pale colors, dressed in weariness and often verging on madness. Blue saxophone tones amidst the fogs of prejudice and blind hatred for all intelligent behavior by a despised minority. What more could a gentle man, human and tender, make of such craziness ? Poetry, broken images that pass slowly, pale by smoke, pale by moonlight, whisper of yellow globes, and decline of that distant hope that someday “they” would learn. Part of this book is poetry, part is prose, and part a strange play about a man named Kabnis (“Sinbad ?) who seems an unlikely traveller on life’s roads. It is not a novel in any usual sense of the word, since it is made up of completely disparate parts with no connection other than that they describe the vicissitudes of African-American life in the South and in Washington DC. Plot is absent, as is continuity. This is a volume of ashen portraits, not much flattering. This is a volume worth more for its history than for its literary merit, yet it will touch you if you let it.

    Not yet published were the forthright descriptions and defiance of Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, and many others. The bold fulminations of Malcolm, the brilliant oratory of King—not even dreamt of. Toomer asks—but through a mist of poetic images, through the circuitous meanderings of the oppressed—what have we done to deserve this fate? Who am I ? No firebrand he. “Wish that I might fly out past the moon/ And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.” This is hardly rebellion. But he wrote, he dared that. From our so-privileged vantage point of eight decades into the future shall we challenge him, shall we scorn him ? Let’s praise him, for he began the trickle that turned into a mighty flood.

  • John Baxter
    5:28 on May 5th, 2011
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    This is not a book that is likely to be appreciated by the pabulum fed mass readership of today, because it requires emotional and intellectual engagement, and refuses to give answers, while wishing its readers to take what they need at each reading. It is also still relevant because its form’s perpetual renewal transcends its time, even its use of outdated terms. Look at other black fiction from the era and you will see that Cane is still relevant and undated. Even compared to the later, limp, stereotyped tales of an Alice Walker or Toni Morrison this book is visionary, however focused its beam. Some critics, over the decades, have tried to autobiographize the book, out of the necessity of their inability to relate to black art, and black culture, and Toomer’s alleged ambivalence on the subject of race and class in America because he was a light-skinned black, whom some of his black critics even doubted was black, but that is a mistake, for every work reveals something of its author, if only in his choice of subject matter. Toomer may have been any of a dozen of his characters, but that is not the point of the book. He is and isn’t those characters, but the truth is it does not matter, for all sugar cane has the same fate, and that was the point. Another thing to note is that of all the so-called jazz poems or works of `written’ jazz- prose or poetry, none is more true to the improvisational darting nature of that dying musical form than this book. That is why any deeper analysis of themes, motives, and characters is bound to be superfluous, at least in a mere review, because a reader will inevitably, and as Toomer wanted, see something else in this Rorschachian book. And that’s a very good thing.

  • Karla Shelton
    10:50 on May 5th, 2011
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    Cane is a collection of short stories that are loosely connected by theme and mood. It seems that the characters are very stifled by their environment. The main characters of each story seem to be either too introspective to include anyone in their lives or too extrospective/judgmental to form an honest bond with anyone. One quote from the book I think sums it up: “Time and space do not exist in a canefield.” I think Toomer was saying that slavery still exists, but rather within the souls of black people. The memory or the history of it is the root of a very serious unhappiness, which begets stagnation, indifference and social impotence.

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