Fisher, Rudolph, 1897-1934

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African American physician and author.

From the description of Fisher notebook, 1923-1924. (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Association Library). WorldCat record id: 70938918

Rudolph Fisher (1897-1934), a physician, novelist, dramatist, musician, and orator, was born in Washington, D.C., on May 9, 1897. The last of six children (three of whom died prior to 1905) born to John Wesley Fisher, a clergyman, and Glendora Williamson Fisher, Fisher was raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Providence's Classical High School with honors in 1915. He then attended Brown University, graduating in 1919 with an A.B. in English and an A.M. in biology a year later. In 1924 Rudolph graduated from the Howard University Medical School with highest honors. Rudolph interned at Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C., from 1924 to 1925 and was a fellow with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York from 1925 to 1927. Fisher was a pioneer in radiology, one of only thirty known African American physicians to be practicing or teaching radiology in 1934. Rudolph Fisher was most noted for his literary works. A key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Fisher published two novels, THE WALLS OF JERICHO (1928) and THE CONJURE-MAN DIES: A MYSTERY TALE DARK HARLEM (1932), along with fifteen short stories, one essay, eight book reviews, and two research articles. He won first prize for "High Yaller" in the Amy Spingarn Contest in 1927. Also an accomplished musician, Fisher arranged a number of songs for Paul Robeson's first New York concert in 1929.

From the description of Rudolph Fisher collection, 1925-1926. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 78680533

Rudolph John Chauncy Fisher, "Bud," was born to Reverend John Wesley and Dora Fisher on May 9, 1897 in Washington D.C. Fisher grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. After graduating from Classical High School in 1915, Fisher went on to Brown University where he majored in English and biology. While at Brown, Fisher won a number of honors, including the Carpenter Prize Speaking contest, and was selected for Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and Delta Sigma Rho. Because of his noted oration skills, Fisher was selected to be both Class Day Orator and Commencement Day Speaker for his class of 1919. In 1920, Fisher returned to Brown for his A.M. in biology.

Following his Master’s degree at Brown, Fisher moved on to medical school at Howard University in Washington D.C. He was equally as successful at Howard and graduated with high honors in 1924. During the same year, Fisher married Jane Ryder, a Washington D.C. school teacher, and fellow minister’s child. Fisher was then selected as a Fellow of the National Research Council at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, focusing on biology. In 1927, Fisher began to work in New York City hospitals as a specialist in roentgenology, an early form of radiology. As the Superintendent of International Hospital in New York City, Fisher conducted a great deal of research and published a number of scientific articles. He was also a First Lieutenant, MC of the 369th Infantry of the New York National Guard.

While studying and working in the medical field, Fisher wrote numerous short stories and two novels. “The City of Refuge,” Fisher’s first short story, was accepted for publication at Atlantic Monthly in 1923. Following this first success, Fisher has many stories published in well-known publications such as: Opportunity, Crisis, McClure’s, and Story. “The City of Refuge” and “Miss Cynthie” were both selected for Edward O’Brien’s Best Short Stories, in 1925 and 1934.

In 1928, Fisher released his first novel, The Walls of Jericho, to rave reviews in both American and British publications. The Conjure-Man Dies, published in 1932, also received strong reviews, hailing Fisher as the first black mystery writer. Fisher also wrote reviews for many titles, including those later recognized as key works of the Harlem Renaissance, printed in The New Amsterdam and The New York Herald Tribune.

Before his death in 1934, Fisher dramatized his second novel, The Conjure-Man Dies. Sadly, Fisher died before he saw his play performed by the Federal Theatre Players at the Lafayette Theatre in New York. The play enjoyed a long run at the Lafayette and became an outdoor production, traveling around New York City parks. Later, the play was performed by the Karamu Plays of Cleveland, Ohio – also part of the Federal Theatre Project.

In addition to his scholarly and writing talents, Fisher was a talented musician. He wrote and arranged many African-American spirituals – though he never published them. Notably, he wrote and arranged music for Paul Robeson.

Rudolph Fisher suffered from an intestinal ailment in 1934 that required multiple surgeries in six months. The third surgery proved fatal, and Fisher died December 26, 1934. His death was a shock to the black literary community. Jane Ryder Fisher received sympathy notes from Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston, Alain Locke and other known authors and publishers who helped to create the canon of Harlem Renaissance literature. Hughes later wrote admiringly about Fisher in his autobiography, The Big Sea.

From the guide to the Rudolph Fisher papers, Fisher (Rudolph) papers, (bulk 1919-1934), 1919-1983, (John Hay Library Special Collections)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Fisher, Rudolph, 1897-1934. Fisher notebook, 1923-1924. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology Association Library
creatorOf Rudolph Fisher papers, Fisher (Rudolph) papers, (bulk 1919-1934), 1919-1983 John Hay Library, Special Collections
creatorOf Fisher, Rudolph, 1897-1934. Rudolph Fisher collection, 1925-1926. Emory University Library, Special Collect Department
referencedIn Fisher Family. Fisher family papers, 1873-1926. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn William B. Provine collection of evolutionary biology reprints, 20th century. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
creatorOf Fisher, Rudolph, 1897-1934. Rudolph Fisher papers, 1919-1983 (1919-1934). Brown University, Brown University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Fisher Family. family
associatedWith Kellogg, Paul Underwood, 1879-1958. person
correspondedWith Provine, William B. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Washington (D.C.)
New York (State)--New York
Harlem (New York, N.Y.)
Subject
Obstetrics--Practice
African Americans
Harlem Renaissance
African Americans in literature
African American authors
American literature--African American authors--20th century
Occupation
Physicians--Washington (D.C.)
Authors
Function

Person

Birth 1897-05-09

Death 1934-12-26

Americans

English

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