Gwendolyn Brooks Langston Hughes Paul Laurence Dunbar Black American Poets Life experience into literature An interactive poetry lesson prepared by Mrs. Thalen Sterling Brown Countee Cullen Raisin in the Sun In Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun we come to understand the challenges faced by a black family trying to move ahead in the world. They face bigotry and struggle with their own individual desires about “assimilating” to the culture. Many black American poets also wrote about the challenges of breaking the “color barrier” and finding a place in the country that was called “The Melting Pot.” Black American Poets This activity will allow you to learn a bit about 5 poets who wrote about the experience of being black in a culture which had not completely accepted them. Print handouts using buttons on left, then begin by clicking the button for Langston Hughes. Get Task Sheet Get NoteTaking Guide Get Grading Rubric Get Checklist Langston Hughes Paul Laurence Dunbar Sterling Brown Gwendolyn Brooks Countee Cullen Langston Hughes James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a small child, and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, eventually settling in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln, Illinois, that Hughes began writing poetry. Following graduation, he spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University. Langston Hughes 2 During these years, he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, and travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D.C. Hughes first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature. Langston Hughes 3 Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in Montage of a Dream Deferred. Langston Hughes 4 His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period-Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen--Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself. Langston Hughes 5 Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer in May 22, 1967, in New York. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem, New York City, has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street was renamed "Langston Hughes Place." Read Poem Quiz on Langston Hughes Write your answers on printed quiz handout. Where was he born? Where was he educated? When was he first published? What did you find most interesting about this poet? Print out quiz Go to Paul L Dunbar Paul Laurence Dunbar Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first African-American poets to gain national recognition. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 27, 1872, to Joshua and Matilda Murphy Dunbar, freed slaves from Kentucky. His parents separated shortly after his birth, but Dunbar would draw on their stories of plantation life throughout his writing career. By the age of fourteen, Dunbar had poems published in the Dayton Herald. While in high school he edited the Dayton Tattler, a shortlived black newspaper published by classmate Orville Wright. Paul Laurence Dunbar 2 Despite being a fine student, Dunbar was financially unable to attend college and took a job as an elevator operator. In 1892, a former teacher invited him to read his poems at a meeting of the Western Association of Writers; his work impressed his audience to such a degree that the popular poet James Whitcomb Riley wrote him a letter of encouragement. In 1893, Dunbar selfpublished a collection called Oak and Ivy. To help pay the publishing costs, he sold the book for a dollar to people riding in his elevator. Paul Laurence Dunbar 3 Later that year, Dunbar moved to Chicago, hoping to find work at the first World's Fair. He befriended Frederick Douglass, who found him a job as a clerk, and also arranged for him to read a selection of his poems. Douglass said of Dunbar that he was "the most promising young colored man in America." By 1895, Dunbar's poems began appearing in major national newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times. Paul Laurence Dunbar 4 With the help of friends, he published the second collection, Majors and Minors (1895). The poems written in standard English were called "majors," and those in dialect were termed "minors." Although the "major" poems outnumber those written in dialect, it was the dialect poems that brought Dunbar the most attention. The noted novelist and critic William Dean Howells gave a favorable review to the poems in Harper's Weekly. Paul Laurence Dunbar 5 This recognition helped Dunbar gain national and international acclaim, and in 1897 he embarked on a six-month reading tour of England. He also brought out a new collection, Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). Upon returning to America, Dunbar received a clerkship at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and shortly thereafter he married the writer Alice Ruth Moore. While living in Washington, Dunbar published a short story collection, Folks from Dixie, a novel entitled The Uncalled, and two more collections of poems, Lyrics of the Hearthside and Poems of Cabin and Field (1899). He also contributed lyrics to a number Paul Laurence Dunbar 6 His collections from this time include Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903), Howdy, Howdy, Howdy (1905), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905). These books confirmed his position as America's premier black poet. Dunbar continued to write poems. Read Poem Quiz on Paul Laurence Dunbar Write your answers on printed quiz handout. Where was he born? Where was he educated? When was he first published? What did you find most interesting about this poet? Go to Sterling Brown Sterling Brown Sterling Brown was born in Washington, D.C., in 1901. He was educated at Dunbar High School and received a bachelor's degree from Williams College. He studied the work of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, but was more interested in the works of Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. Sterling Brown 2 In 1923, he earned a master's degree from Harvard University and was employed as a teacher at the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg until 1926. Three years later, Brown began teaching at Howard University and in 1932 his first book, Southern Road, was published. Sterling Brown 3 His poetry was influenced by jazz, the blues, work songs and spirituals and, like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and other black poets of the period, his writing expresses his concerns about race in America. Southern Road was well received by critics and Brown became part of the artistic tradition of the Harlem Renaissance, but with the arrival of the Depression, Brown could not find a publisher for his second book of verse. Sterling Brown 4 He turned to writing essays and focused on his career as a teacher at Howard, where he taught until his retirement in 1969. He finally published his second book of poetry, The Last Ride of Wild Bill, in 1975. Brown is known for his frank, unsentimental portraits of black people and their experiences, and the incorporation of African-American folklore and contemporary idiom into his verse. He died in 1989 in Takoma Park, Maryland. Read Poem Quiz on S. Brown Write your answers on printed quiz handout. Where was he born? Where was he educated? When was he first published? What did you find most interesting about this poet? Go to Gwendolyn Brooks Gwendolyn Brooks The African American poet Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born June 7, 1917, to Keziah and David Brooks in Topeka, Kansas. Later that year the Brooks family moved to Chicago, where her two siblings were born. Brooks' mother discovered Gwendolyn's gift for writing when she was seven. She promptly encouraged this talent by exposing the girl to various forms of literature. Gwendolyn Brooks 2 Her parents, however were very strict and she was not allowed to play with the kids in the neighborhood. As a child she lacked the sass and brass of the other girls in her class and became very isolated. As a result, she made few friends while in school. When Brooks was at home in her room she often created a world of her own by reading and writing stories and poetry. Due to her lack of social skills she became very shy and continued to be shy throughout her adult life. Gwendolyn Brooks 3 After graduating from high school she went on to Wilson Junior College and graduated in 1936. Her early verses appeared in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper written primarily for the black community of Chicago. In 1939 she was married to Henry Blakely and they had two children, Henry junior and Nora Blakely. In 1945 Gwendolyn Brooks' first book entitled A Street In Bronzeville was published. In 1949 Annie Allen (a loosely-connected series of poems related to a black girl's growing up in Chicago) was published and received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950, becoming the first African American to receive this prestigious award in poetry. Gwendolyn Brooks 4 In 1953 Brooks' first novel is published Maud Martha. In 1963 she published Selected Poems and secured her first teaching job at Chicago's Columbia College. In 1967 at the Fisk University Writers Conference in Nashville, Brooks met the new black revolution. She came from South Dakota State College, which was all white, where she was received with love. Now she had arrived at an all black college where she was now coldly respected. After this trip Brooks says that she, “is no longer asleep she is now awake.” After 1967 she became aware that other blacks feel that way and are not hesitant about saying it. She appeals to her people for understanding and is more conscious of them in her writing. Gwendolyn Brooks 5 In 1968 she published her next major collection of poetry, In the Mecca. The effect of her awakening is noticeable in her poetry. Brooks is less concerned with poetic form, and uses mostly free verse. In 1968 she was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois and was also the first African American to receive an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in 1976. Gwendolyn Brooks 6 Since then, Gwendolyn Brooks has gone on to receive over fifty honorary doctorates from numerous colleges and universities. She has received two Guggenheim Fellowships and has served as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress. In 1990 she became professor of English at Chicago State University. Ms. Brooks died at the age of 83 Sunday December 3, 2000. Read Poem Quiz on Gwendolyn Brooks Write your answers on printed quiz handout. Where was she born? Where was she educated? When was she first published? What did you find most interesting about this poet? Go to Countee Cullen Countee Cullen Countee Cullen (1903 - 1946) – was born Countee LeRoy Porter a leading figure with Langston Hughes in the Harlem Renaissance. This 1920s artistic movement produced the first large body of work in the United States written by African Americans. However, Cullen considered poetry “raceless,” although his 'The Black Christ' took a racial theme, lynching of a black youth for a crime he did not commit. Countee Cullen 2 Countee Cullen was very secretive about his life. According to different sources, he was born in Louisville, Kentucy or Baltimore, Md. Cullen was possibly abandoned by his mother, and reared by a woman named Mrs. Porter, who was probably his paternal grandmother. Cullen once said that he was born in New York City - perhaps he did not mean it literally. Porter brought young Countee to Harlem when he was nine. She died in 1918. At the age of 15, Cullen was adopted unofficially by the Reverend F.A. Cullen, minister of Salem M.E. Church, one of the largest congregations of Harlem. Later Reverend Cullen became the head of the Harlem chapter of NAACP. His real mother did not contact him until he became famous in the 1920s. Countee Cullen 3 As a schoolboy, Cullen won a citywide poetry contest and saw his winning stanzas widely reprinted. With the help of Reverend Cullen, he attended the prestigious De Witt Clinton High School in Manhattan. After graduating, he entered New York University, where his works attracted critical attention. Cullen's first collection of poems, COLOR (1925), was published in the same year he graduated from NYU. Written in a careful, traditional style, the work celebrated black beauty and deplored the effects of racism. Countee Cullen 4 The book included 'Heritage' and 'Incident', probably his most famous poems. 'Yet Do I Marvel', about racial identity and injustice, showed the influence of the literary expression of William Wordsworth and William Blake, but its subject was far from the world of their Romantic sonnets. The poet accepts that there is God, and 'God is good, well-meaning, kind', but he finds a contradiction of his own plight in a racist society: he is black and a poet. Countee Cullen 5 A brilliant student, Cullen graduated from New York University Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard, earning his masters degree in 1926. He worked as assistant editor for Opportunity magazine, where his column, 'The Dark Tower,' increased his literary reputation. Cullen's poetry collections THE BALLAD OF THE BROWN GIRL (1927) and COPPER SUN (1927) explored similar themes as Colour, but they were not so well received. Cullen's Guggenheim Fellowship of 1928 enabled him to study and write abroad. He married in April 1928 Nina Yolande Du Bois, daughter of W.E.B. DuBois, the leading black intellectual. At that time Yolande was involved romantically with a popular band leader. Between the years 1928 and 1934, Cullen travelled back and forth between France and the United States. Countee Cullen 6 By 1929 Cullen had published four volumes of poetry. The title poem of THE BLACK CHRIST AND OTHER POEMS (1929) was criticized for the use of Christian religious imagery - Cullen compared the lynching of a black man to Christ's crucification. His marriage did not succeed and he divorced in 1930. One extra load for the marriage was Cullen's and Harold Jackman's close friendship. Jackman was a a teacher whom the writer Carl Van Vechten had used as model in his novel Nigger Heaven (1926). In 1940 Cullen married Ida Mae Robertson; they had known each other for ten years. Countee Cullen 7 As well as writing books himself, Cullen promoted the work of other black writers. But in the late 1920s Cullen's reputation as a poet waned. In 1932 appeared his only novel, ONE WAY TO HEAVEN, a social comedy of lower-class blacks and the bourgeoisie in New York City. From 1934 until the end of his life he taught English, French, and creative writing at Frederick Douglass Junior High School in the New York City. During this period he also wrote two works for young readers: THE LOST ZOO (1940), poems about the animals who perished in the Flood, and MY LIVES AND HOW I LOST THEM, an autobiography of his cat. Countee Cullen 8 In the last years of his life Cullen wrote mostly for the theatre. With Arna Bontemps he adapted her novel, God Sends Sunday (1931), entitled ST. LOUIS WOMAN (1946, publ. 1971) for the musical stage. Its score was composed by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, both white. The Broadway musical, set in poor black neighborhood in St. Louis, was criticized by black intellectuals for creating a negative image of black Americans. Cullen also translated the Greek tragedy Medea by Euripides, which was published in THE MEDEA AND SOME POEMS (1935), with a collection of sonnets and short lyrics. Countee Cullen 9 As a poet Cullen was conservative: he did not ignore racial themes, but based his works on the Romantic poets, especially Keats, and often used the traditional sonnet form. "Not writ in water nor in mist, / Sweet lyric throat, thy name. / Thy singing lips that cold death kissed / Have seared his own with flame." ('2. For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty') However, Cullen also enjoyed Langston Hughes's black jazz rhythms, but more he loved "the measured line and the skillful rhyme" of the 19th century poetry. After the early 1930s Cullen avoided racial themes. Cullen's later publications include ON THESE I STAND (1947), a collection of his favorite poems, and the play THE THIRD FOURTH OF JULY (publ. 1946). Cullen died of uremic poisoning in New York City on January 9, 1946. Private about his life, he left behind no autobiography. Read Poem Quiz on Countee Cullen Write your answers on printed quiz handout. Where was he born? Where was he educated? When was he first published? What did you find most interesting about this poet? Go to Bonus Assignment Rap Music Assignment Listen to music classified as “Rap” and read the lyrics very carefully. Find one song (and print out the lyrics) that you think expresses the frustrations of not belonging to the culture where the “Speaker” lives. Come prepared to make a presentation to the class that consists of: playing the music giving a copy of the lyrics to the members of the class explaining the similarities between this rap music and any of the poems you’ve read for this activity Finish Get handout to take home Last Steps Once you have completed all worksheets, quizzes and paragraphs, you are done! Put all your material in the folder to be turned in before you begin working on the bonus assignment. I will sign your permission slip (on Bonus assignment handout) only after you have completed all other work.