African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

William Stanley Braithwaite: Author Page

William Stanley Braithwaite (1878-1962) was a leading light in American literature in the early 20th century. 

As one of the very few Black critics employed as a regular columnist and reviewer for a mainstream newspaper in the 1910s and 20s, Braithwaite had outsized importance as a literary critic in his day. Braithwaite wrote regularly for the Boston Evening Transcript between 1905 and 1931, and his positive reviews were eagerly sought by then-aspiring peers like Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, or Amy Lowell. Between 1913 and 1929, Braithwaite edited a series of poetry anthologies called the Anthology of Magazine Verse, which featured some of the most prominent poems published in mainstream venues from around the U.S. The vast majority of the poets published in these collections were white, though Braithwaite did include some Black poets in the collection from time to time. 

Before the Evening Transcript, Braithwaite was briefly an editor for Colored American Magazine, an important journal that has an excellent digital archive here. While Braithwaite largely encouraged emerging Black writers like Georgia Douglas Johnson to eschew politics and race-consciousness in favor of lyricism and an aspiration to aesthetic 'universality' (see his preface to her first collection of poems here), he was supportive of emerging Black writers who did not share his views. In 1926, Braithwaite gave his critical stamp of approval to the emerging Harlem Renaissance movement with an extended essay on the Black presence in American literature that was published in Alain Locke's groundbreaking anthology, The New Negro: an Interpretation. In this essay, Braithwaite wrote approvingly of a range of Black writers, including Phillis Wheatley and Paul Laurence Dunbar, though he expressed frustration with Dunbar's occasional lack of seriousness, and especially with the way subsequent writers imitated his "dialect verse." Against the "dialect verse" trend, Braithwaite wrote approvingly of peers like James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Jean Toomer, all of whom would soon be seen as central figures in the Harlem Renaissance movement. 

Braithwaite also published two books of poetry in his own right, both of which are collected on this site (here and here). While his poems were anthologized in a number of collections dedicated to Black writers in the 1920s, by and large Braithwaite's contributions as a poet have been seen as less important than his role as a critic and editor. 

Between 1931 and 1945, Braithwaite lived in Atlanta, where he taught at Atlanta University, a historically Black university. After 1945, Braithwaite and his family lived in Harlem. 


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