Working as a librarian through the early part of her marriage to Imes, Larsen was the first Black woman to graduate from the New York Public Library School, and helped integrate libraries in the city. As a result of her connection with Harlem’s elite, she quit her job as a librarian and began writing full-time.
She published her first novel, Quicksand, in 1928, which was mostly autobiographical. The tale of struggling to find racial identity would continue in her next book, Passing, which came out the following year.
The books themselves were not huge financial hits, but they were critically acclaimed and praised for their handling of some of the most sensitive subjects of the time.
In 1930, Larsen was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship but disappeared from the scene as the decade went on. After a divorce from Imes in 1933, Larsen never returned to writing and instead worked as a nurse for a Brooklyn hospital. She never returned to Harlem and remained in Brooklyn until her death in 1964.
In recent times, scholars and literary fans have rediscovered Larsen’s work stating that she and Zora Neale Hurston are among the Harlem Renaissance period’s most important voices, especially for women.