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  • Vivian Phillips

BLACK AUTHORS EXPLORE THE CONCEPT OF "PASSING"

Racial identity has recently resurfaced in discussion, literature, and film. Two popular works explore the concept of “passing;” one in a contemporary setting, and one that first emerged in the 1920s.


New York Times bestselling author Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half was selected as the 2021 Seattle Reads choice. This citywide book group, offered by the Seattle Public Library Foundation, is an opportunity for people to read and discuss the same book. Bennett’s novel is centered on the Vignes twin sisters whose lives, while identical growing up in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, become quite different as adults. Things change: their families, their communities, and their racial identities.


Seattle Reads hosted a series of events and activities in conjunction with the book, including a conversation with Britt Bennett and Seattle arts programmer Jazmyn Scott, which is available to view online only until October 29. On November 9, artist Lisa Myers Bulmash will be featured in a virtual event discussing her process and creation of an artwork informed by The Vanishing Half. To learn more, access reading resources, or register for the November 9th event, click here.


Although wildly underappreciated, Harlem Renaissance-era writer Nella Larson rocked the literary world in 1928 when her book Quicksand was published. It included a story called Passing, which in 1929 was published singularly. The concept of racial passing is at the core of her story, which in many ways was inspired by the 1925 Rhinelander case, where Leonard Rhinelander a wealthy white man, sued his wife, Alice Beatrice Jones, for annulment and fraud, alleging that she had failed to inform him of her "colored" blood. Passing centers on two Black women who are living in New York in the late 1920s and are both able to “pass” as white but choose to live on opposing sides of the color line. One fateful summer, the childhood friends are reunited, changing the course of their lives forever. The cinematic adaptation premiere’s on Netflix on November 10th. Here’s a peek at the recently released trailer for Passing.