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Welcome: African American Poetry--a Digital Anthology
Edited by Amardeep Singh, Lehigh University
This digital anthology is an open-access resource for students, teachers, and researchers interested in African American poetry, published roughly between 1870 and 1927. The full-text materials on this site can be accessed in several different ways -- either directly (Full Text Collections), or via Author Pages, historical context, periodical name, or thematic tag.
What's here -- at a glance:
- Full Text Collections: Books Published by African American Poets
- Author Pages: Profiles and Links to Poetry
- Areas of Interest: Topics and Themes
- Periodicals: African American Poetry -- in the Magazines
- Anthologies: Black Literary Anthologies of the 1920s
- The Beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance: Overview and Timeline
- African American Poetry Before the Harlem Renaissance
- Exploring Datasets in African American poetry
- New: Downloadable teaching module: Poetry by African American Women, 1899-1927 [PDF]
- New: Poetic Form in African American Poetry
In greater depth:
African American Poetry: a Digital Anthology (shortcut link: aapada.net) aims to provide access to a comprehensive collection of Black poetry from a crucial historical period. As of 2023, this site contains full text versions of about 90 books of poetry (including anthologies as well as single-author books), and a substantial collection of periodical poetry from African American magazines like The Crisis, Opportunity, The Messenger, and Negro World. The anthology contains substantial collections by major authors like Langston Hughes, Jessie Fauset, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen, but also materials by many lesser-known writers. By putting all of these materials together on a single site -- a project somewhere between an "anthology," an "archive" and a textual corpus -- we hope to give readers new angles of approach to an important literary movement.
All poems on this site are 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 Alain Locke's anthology The New Negro (1925), Langston Hughes' The Weary Blues (1926), and Countee Cullen's Color (1925).
The Harlem Renaissance: This site can be used as an archive of Harlem Renaissance poetry, especially in its early phases. See our introductory overview and timeline of the beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance. Also see: Black Poetry Before the Harlem Renaissance, which is a good introductory guide for the extensive array of materials on this site dated before 1922.
Anthologies: (See African American Poetry: Anthologies of the 1920s) There were several major anthologies devoted to African American literature that appeared between 1922 and 1927, and they played a major role in the creation of the Harlem Renaissance. Of these, three were edited by Black critics, James Weldon Johnson's Book of American Negro Poetry Alain Locke's The New Negro: an Interpretation, and Countee Cullen's Caroling Dusk.
Additional volumes appeared in 1923 and 1924. 1924 saw a collection 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: (See African American Poetry: a Story of Magazines.) This project aims to include and index periodical publication of poetry by Black writers from this period. The largest and perhaps the most important collection developed thus far might be the collection of poems published in The Crisis between 1910 and 1926 (link).
We have also added a 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, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Zora Neale Hurston. We are also starting the process of working through issues of Negro World (esp. the "Poetry for the People" column that regularly appeared in 1920-1921), and The Messenger, to discover and transcribe poetry found there. Finally, we have been developing a collection of poetry for children from The Brownies' Book, a magazine edited by Du Bois and Fauset that ran between 1920-1921.
Areas of Interest (Thematic Tags): (See Areas of Interest: Topics and Themes) 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 sample thematic tags: African American Poetry of World War I, Civil War, Motherhood, Slavery, Progress/Protest/Racial Uplift, Interracial/Multiracial Themes, HBCU. (You'll see many others if you click on 'Areas of Interest: Topics and Themes')
Datasets: In 2023, we began to explore datasets related to African American poetry, with an interest in the size and scale of the publishing community and industry, its evolution over time, gender dynamics of African American poetry publishing, and geographic distruction. Some of our preliminary explorations can be found here.
About This Site: Origins, Methods, and a Mission Statement: A more detailed account of the origin story of this project, including predecessor projects, our methods and sources, and a general sense of what we are aiming for.
A Note on Historical Language: An explainer by the site editor regarding this use of historical identifiers for race, such as "Negro," "Black," and "African American."
Accessibility and Rights: The poems and images on this site are all understood to be in the public domain. The site itself is attributed to Amardeep Singh on a Creative Commons "Attribution" basis, with contributions from students whose works appear with permission and full attribution. All poems on this site can be downloaded in plain text format from a publicly-accessible Google Drive folder here.
Latest edits made: June 2023
Project Editor: Amardeep Singh, Professor of English, Lehigh University.
Email amsp [at] lehigh.edu
Editorial team and acknowledgments: Students contributing to components of this project include: Heather Simoneau (2015), Hannah Provost (2020), Amira Shokr (2020), Joanna Grim (2017), Christian Farrior (2022), and Miranda Alvarez Guillen (2023). This project was supported by a grant from the Mellon Humanities Lab at Lehigh University, a Mellon-funded grant, in the summer of 2022, and an internal Faculty Research Grant in the summer of 2023.
Jessie Fauset (Jessie Redmon Fauset): Author Page
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) was one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance.
Born in Camden, New Jersey, she largely grew up in Philadelphia in a large family that included several step-siblings. Her father, Redmon Fauset, was an African Methodist Episcopal minister. She attended the predominantly-white Philadelphia High School for Girls, and may have been the school's first African American graduate. The President of Bryn Mawr College, M. Carey Thomas, raised money to support Fauset's study at Cornell University (in part because Thomas desired to keep women of color out of Bryn Mawr).
At Cornell, Fauset studied classical languages and French, and graduated in 1905. Fauset went on to receive a Master's degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania (in 1919). Between 1906 and 1919, Fauset taught French and Latin at would become the Dunbar High School in Washington DC.
The Crisis. Fauset began contributing regularly to the "Looking Glass" section of The Crisis in the summer of 1918. In October 1919, Fauset moved to New York City, where she became the literary editor of The Crisis, and an important part of its editorial staff (though her work was largely uncredited and her name did not appear on the magazine's masthead). She served as literary editor of the magazine until 1926.
In addition to her poetry and criticism, Fauset published a good deal of fiction. Her first publications were short stories, including "Emmy" (published in The Crisis in December 1912 and January 1913). She published two novels in the 1920s, There is Confusion (1924) and Plum Bun (1928). Both novels were well-received upon publication, though Fauset's personal reputation was quickily eclipsed by some of the young male authors whose careers she helped establish, including Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.
The Brownies' Book Fauset played an especially prominent role in managing a Du Bois side-project called The Brownies' Book. This was a monthly magazine oriented to African American youth, published between 1920-1921. Du Bois' biographer David Levering Lewis suggests Fauset played a central role in running the magazine from the start, though it was only in 1921 that she was credited as Managing Editor Fauset also published a large amount of her own writing for children in The Brownies' Book (see: Poetry for Children; The Brownies' Book).
Fauset was included in some of the key anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance such as James Weldon Johnson's 1922 Book of American Negro Poetry (click here). Of the group that is printed there, the most memorable might be "La Vie C'est La Vie," a poem of unrequited love, and "Oriflamme," a poem with a civil right theme, inspired by the example of Sojourner Truth.
However, Fauset's poems were excluded in Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925), though she is still represented in that volume with a critical essay on humor and minstrelsy, "The Gift of Laughter."
In a recent (2017) article in The New Yorker, Morgan Jenkins describes the painful experience of Fauset being marginalized at a dinner party thrown in her honor in March 1924, upon the publication of her first novel, There is Confusion. The dinner party was organized by Charles S. Johnson, editor of Opportunity, though as it evolved it became an event to honor Black writers more generally. In the end, male speakers dominated the event, and Fauset was reduced to an "afterthought."
In his biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, David Levering Lewis suggests that in addition to being co-workers and friends, Fauset and Du Bois may have also been lovers, perhaps starting as early as 1914. The account of the affair is somewhat sketchy (Du Bois was of course married to another woman), and is based on a handful of letters exchanged between Fauset and Du Bois at the time.
--Amardeep Singh, July 2022