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Baker, Henry Edwin  

Janice L. Greene

first African AmericanPatent Examiner, a lawyer, and author of The Colored Inventor: A Record of Fifty Years (Crisis Publishing Co., 1913) and other works on black inventors and scientists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, was born in Columbus, Mississippi. Little is known of his parents or his early life in Columbus, except that he attended public schools and the Columbus Union Academy. Toward the end of Reconstruction, in June 1874, he was selected to attend the Annapolis, Maryland, naval academy by white Congressman Henry W. Barry R Mississippi who had commanded black troops for the union Army during the Civil War Despite government and naval policies during this period directing the military to integrate the first two African American cadets failed to survive intense hazing taunting assaults and social isolation from classmates and left before graduation Still Congressman Barry originally from New ...

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Baraka, Amiri  

James Smethurst

Amiri Baraka was a highly productive writer who has written poetry, drama, novels, Jazz operas, and nonfiction. He also played a crucial role as an organizer, editor, and promoter of the avant-garde literary movements of the 1950s and early 1960s and the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Often controversial, Baraka became the center of a political firestorm in his home state of New Jersey in 2003 when a poem he had written was criticized as anti-Semitic.

Born Everett Leroy (later LeRoi) Jones in Newark, New Jersey, Baraka attended Newark public schools and studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before turning to literature and philosophy. In 1954 he left Howard and joined the United States Air Force. He became increasingly interested in literature, immersing himself in the work of American poet Ezra Pound, Irish novelist James Joyce and other modern ...

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Baraka, Amiri  

Henry C. Lacey

One of the most influential and prolific African American writers of the twentieth century, Amiri Baraka first came to the attention of readers and critics as LeRoi Jones. He was born Everett LeRoy Jones on 7 October 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. His solidly middle-class upbringing figures prominently in his creative work and must be considered one of the major distinguishing features in any comparative treatment of Baraka and other seminal African American literary artists. The son of postal employee Coyt LeRoy Jones and social worker Anna Lois (Russ) Jones, Baraka articulates the angst of the African American middle class with unsurpassed effect in works from every phase of his artistic development. This concern is most apparent in such relatively early works as the Beat-inspired Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note (1961), the theatrical triumph Dutchman (1964), the barometric essays collected in Home Social ...

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Baraka, Amiri  

Magda Romanska

playwright, poet, writer, and one of the leaders of the black revolt of the 1960s. Imamu Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey. He is credited as one of the most outspoken advocates of a black cultural and political revival in the 1960s. He attended Barringer High School and Rutgers University, where he pursued philosophy and religious studies, before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was then that he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. Baraka graduated from Howard University in 1953, and in 1954 he joined the U S Air Force in which he served for three years When an anonymous tipster suggested that he was a communist sympathizer Baraka s belongings were searched for subversive literature Because some of his books were deemed socialist Baraka was discharged from the military Shortly thereafter he ...

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Baraka, Amiri  

Sholomo B. Levy

poet, playwright, educator, and activist, was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, the eldest of two children to Coyette Leroy Jones, a postal supervisor, and Anna Lois Russ, a social worker. Jones's lineage included teachers, preachers, and shop owners who elevated his family into Newark's modest, though ambitious, black middle class. His own neighborhood was black, but the Newark of Jones's youth was mostly white and largely Italian. He felt isolated and embattled at McKinley Junior High and Barringer High School, yet he excelled in his studies, played the trumpet, ran track, and wrote comic strips.

Graduating from high school with honors at age fifteen, Jones entered the Newark branch of Rutgers University on a science scholarship. In 1952 after his first year he transferred to Howard University hoping to find a sense of purpose at a black college that had ...

Article

Baraka, Amiri  

Floris Barnett Cash

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), the leading agent of change and promoter of a new “relevant” black literature of the 1960s, influenced the development of contemporary black letters. Amiri Baraka is the author of twenty plays, three jazz operas, seven books of nonfiction, and thirteen volumes of poetry. Born Everett Jones in Newark, New Jersey, he is the son of Coyette Jones, a postal worker and elevator operator, and Anna Lois Russ Jones, a social worker. Baraka graduated with honors from Newark’s Barringer High School in 1951 at the age of fifteen and received a scholarship to Rutgers University in Newark. A year later, “LeRoi” transferred to Howard University, where he remained briefly before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Stationed at Ramsey Field, Puerto Rico, for two years, he read extensively, wrote poetry, and traveled to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

In 1957 ...

Article

Bontemps, Arna  

Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, to parents of Creole descent who eventually converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. While Arna was young, the Bontemps family moved to Los Angeles, California. The childhood loss of his mother and the stern upbringing by his pragmatic father affected him deeply. His father hoped, mistakenly, that his son would make the family trade of masonry his life's work. Educated at Seventh-Day Adventist institutions, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923. In 1924 he took a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in New York City.

Literary notice and success came early to Bontemps. His creativity and social conscience were excited by the cultural vitality he found in New York in the 1920s. By 1926 his poetry had appeared in two of the most important journals of the period, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ...

Article

Bontemps, Arna  

Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...

Article

Bontemps, Arna  

Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...

Article

Bontemps, Arna Wendell  

Robert E. Fleming

Bontemps, Arna Wendell (13 October 1902–04 June 1973), writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.

Bontemps then moved to New York’s Harlem, where the “Harlem Renaissance” had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize of Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and the Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator In Harlem Bontemps also ...

Article

Bontemps, Arna Wendell  

Robert E. Fleming

writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.Bontemps then moved to Harlem, New York, where the Harlem Renaissance had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize from Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and The Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes, with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator. In Harlem, Bontemps also came to know Countée Cullen, W ...

Article

Braithwaite, William Stanley  

Robin G. Schulze

and influential critic who strived to reanimate and draw attention to American verse in the early twentieth century. Born and raised in Boston, William Stanley Braithwaite began life in a prosperous, cultured home but, on the death of his father, was forced to quit school at the age of twelve to help support his family. Lacking formal instruction, Braithwaite rigorously educated himself. He eventually found work as a typesetter in a Boston printing firm. Setting poems by John Keats and William Wordsworth, Braithwaite developed a love of lyric poetry that inspired his own writing. He began to publish poems and reviews in the Boston Journal and Transcript and eventually produced his first book of poetry, Lyrics of Life and Love, in 1904, followed by The House of Falling Leaves (1908). In 1906 Braithwaite started his critical career in earnest with a regular feature in ...

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Braithwaite, William Stanley  

Cary D. Wintz

poet, anthologist, and literary critic. The second of five children, Braithwaite was born into a genteel upper-middle-class Boston family. His father, William Smith Braithwaite, was a member of a prominent and wealthy British Guiana family, while his mother, Emma DeWolfe, was the descendant of North Carolina slaves. During his early childhood Braithwaite enjoyed a life of comfort and privilege. However, following his father's death in 1886, the family quickly sank into poverty. Emma Braithwaite was forced to take menial jobs, while young William had to leave school at the age of twelve to seek employment. He took a typesetting job with a Boston publishing house, which introduced him to the world of literature. Braithwaite was especially attracted to the work of British Romantic poets like John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Robert Burns Largely self educated Braithwaite read widely and with great ...

Article

Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont  

Dalton Gross and Mary Jean Gross

Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont (06 December 1878–08 June 1962), poet, critic, and anthologist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Smith Braithwaite and Emma DeWolfe. Of his two preoccupations—American poetry and the status of the American Negro—the second clearly had its origins in an unusual cultural heritage. The Braithwaite family, of mixed black and white descent, was wealthy and held prominent positions in British Guiana. Braithwaite’s father studied medicine in London but quit because of apparent mental strain and moved to Boston, where he married DeWolfe, whose family had been in slavery. His father remained aloof from neighbors, educating his children at home. Braithwaite’s autobiography mentions no employment held by his father, whose death, when his son was eight years old, left the family destitute.

Braithwaite s mother was forced into menial employment and at the age of twelve so was Braithwaite After showing interest ...

Article

Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont  

Dalton Gross and Mary Jean Gross

poet, critic, and anthologist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Smith Braithwaite and Emma DeWolfe. Of his two avocations—American poetry and the status of the American Negro—the second clearly had its origins in an unusual cultural heritage. The Braithwaite family, of mixed black and white descent, was wealthy and held prominent positions in British Guiana. Braithwaite's father studied medicine in London but quit because of apparent mental strain and moved to Boston, where he married DeWolfe, whose family had been in slavery. His father remained aloof from neighbors, educating his children at home. Braithwaite's autobiography mentions no employment held by his father, whose death, when his son was eight years old, left the family destitute.Braithwaite s mother was forced into menial employment and at the age of twelve so was Braithwaite After showing interest in reading he was given a job as a typesetter ...

Article

Braithwaite, William Stanley Beaumont  

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Although he praised and supported many African American writers, poet and critic W. S. Braithwaite always held the firm belief that the best writing was never racially or culturally specific, but instead spoke to universal themes. Braithwaite was born into a genteel Boston family, but after his father's death in 1884 he was eventually forced to leave school and take a job with a publisher to help support his family. He later said it was while typesetting John Keats's poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” that he realized he wanted to write poetry. His first pieces appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and Scribner's, and he published his first book, Lyrics of Life and Love, in 1904.

In 1906 Braithwaite began writing a regular column for the Boston Transcript in which he reviewed other contemporary poets, and in the same year he edited his first anthology, The ...

Article

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice  

Janel Telhorst

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice (19 July 1875–18 September 1935), poet, journalist, and political activist, was born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Joseph Moore, a seaman, and Patricia Wright, a seamstress. Dunbar-Nelson graduated from Straight College (now Dillard University) and began her teaching career at a New Orleans elementary school in 1892.

Her precocious literary talent resulted in the publication of Violets and Other Tales in 1895. Publicity surrounding this volume led to an epistolary courtship with the relatively famous African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whom she married in 1898. She had great personal ambitions but was frequently disappointed because she was only esteemed as Paul Dunbar’s wife.

Because married women were not allowed to teach Dunbar Nelson was forced to pursue her literary career full time The major theme in her short stories was women s limited options She was essentially a colorful ...

Article

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice  

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Alice Nelson was born into a mixed Creole, African American, and Native American family in New Orleans, Louisiana. She graduated from the two-year teacher training program at Straight College (now Dillard University) in 1892 and taught school at various times throughout her life. Dunbar-Nelson published her first book, a collection of poetry, short stories, essays, and reviews called Violets and Other Tales in 1895. Paul Laurence Dunbar, the well-known poet, began to correspond with her after admiring her poetry (as well as her picture) in a Boston, Massachusetts, magazine. They married on March 8, 1898.

The Dunbars moved to Washington, D.C., where they were lionized as a literary celebrity couple. Dunbar-Nelson's second collection of short fiction, The Goodness of St. Rocque, was published in 1899 as a companion to her husband's Poems of Cabin and Field While Dunbar was known for his ...

Article

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice  

Alice Knox Eaton

writer, educator, and activist, was born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans to Joseph Moore, a seaman, and Patricia Wright, a former slave and seamstress. Moore completed a teachers' training program at Straight College (now Dillard University) and taught in New Orleans from 1892 to 1896, then in Brooklyn, New York, from 1897 to 1898. Demonstrating a commitment to the education of African American girls and women that would continue throughout her life, Moore helped found the White Rose Home for Girls in Harlem in 1898.

Moore's primary ambition, however, was literary, and she published her first book at the age of twenty, Violets and Other Tales (1895), a collection of poetry in a classical lyric style, essays, and finely observed short stories. The publication of Moore's poetry and photograph in a Boston magazine inspired the famed poet Paul Laurence ...

Article

Dunbar-Nelson, Alice  

Stephanie C. Palmer

short fiction writer, poet, diarist, journalist, and public speaker. Known mostly for her local-color short stories of New Orleans Creole life and romantic poems in conventional verse forms, Alice Dunbar-Nelson also worked as a teacher, journalist, editor, political campaigner, and clubwoman. Dunbar-Nelson struggled throughout her life with opposing forces: racial uplift expectations about the proper behavior and ambitions for a light-skinned, well-bred woman; the lure of urbanity; and recognition of the inadequacy of current strategies for civil rights. She believed that literary writing should remain separate from race work, but in her journalism, her diary, and some of her fiction and plays, one finds both pathos about being stuck between white and black worlds and frank reflections on the personal and ideological conflicts in the political and social organizations with which she worked.

She was born Alice Moore in 1875 in New Orleans where ...