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Rudolph Fisher papers

Brown University Archives

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Tel: 401-863-2146

Biographical note

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.