African American Poetry: a Digital Anthology (1870-1926)
All poems on this site should be in the public domain. We have brought together material from digital editions in two other digital projects, "Claude McKay's Early Poetry," and "Women of the Early Harlem Renaissance," and also taken advantage of new materials entering the public domain, including Langston Hughes' The Weary Blues (1926), and Countee Cullen's Color (1925). Other materials intended for inclusion in this project include the poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Olivia Ward Bush-Banks, James Weldon Johnson, Jean Toomer, Alice Dunbar Nelson, and William Stanley Braithwaite, among many others.
Anthologies: There were at least four major anthologies devoted to African American literature that appeared between 1922 and 1926. Of these, two were edited by Black critics, James Weldon Johnson's Book of American Negro Poetry and Alain Locke's The New Negro: an Interpretation. A third volume appeared in 1924, edited by a trio of professors, with Newman Ivey White as the lead editor: An Anthology of Verse by American Negroes. Finally, an idiosyncratic but enthusiastic contribution appeared in 1923, by the white editor and activist Robert T. Kerlin, Negro Poets and their Poems. Here, we are including the poems printed in these anthologies alongside full books of poetry published by Black authors. There is significant overlap between the anthologies, though the differences are also instructive.
Periodicals: A long-term aspiration for this project will be to include and index periodical publication of poetry by Black writers. To begin with, we have the plain text version of the November, 1926 issue of Fire!! Devoted to the Younger Negro Artists, a magazine edited by Wallace Thurman, with poetry by Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Helene Johnson, Arna Bontemps, and others, along with short stories by Thurman, Gwendolen Bennett, and Zora Neale Hurston. We are also starting the process of working through issues of magazines like Opportunity (1923-1926), Negro World (esp. the "Poetry for the People" column that regularly appeared in 1920-1921), and The Crisis, to discover and transcribe poetry found there. Some of the poems we have found in those periodicals can be found on this Google Drive folder; also check the Tag for "The Crisis."
Areas of Interest (Thematic Tags): As we add individual poems to the anthology, we are marking them with thematic tags as appropriate; this allows readers to find poems by area of interest -- which might be especially valuable for students. Here are some relevant tags: Race, Sonnet, Slavery, Racism, Interracial, Harlem, Music, Dance, Africa, Caribbean, Intertextual, Labor, Black Vernacular (AAVE), Religion, Labor, Travel/Migration, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Accessibility: all poems on this site can be downloaded from a publicly-accessible Google Drive folder here.
Students contributing to components of this project include: Heather Simoneau (2015), Hannah Provost (2020), Amira Shokr (2020), and Joanna Grim (2017).
--Amardeep Singh, Lehigh University. May 2022