Graham considers Jean Toomer's Cane from a musicological perspective and discusses the novel's musical poetics with an ear toward 1920s discussions of African American folk culture, preservationism, and the mediation of song. At the time of Cane's publication, Toomer's poems—modeled on African American spirituals—could be appreciated and sung by readers of various ethnic backgrounds. This essay argues that their musicality and performability were ultimately intended to promote interracial empathy and to elide racial difference.

Other topics of the essay include turn-of-the-century American theater, Tin Pan Alley and the music industry, anthropology and ethnography in the southern United States, and Toomer's debts or relations to other writers of the Harlem Renaissance, among them James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, and Langston Hughes.

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