PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project

© Paul P. Reuben

Chapter 9: Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958)

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap. 9: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 2, 2011

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Primary Works

"To Theodore Weld on His 90th Birthday" (1893), "Longing" (1901) "Beware Lest He Awakes" (1902), "El Beso" (1909), "To Keep the Memory of Charlotte Forten Gimké" (1915), "To the Dunbar High School" (1917), Rachel (produced in 1916 and again in 1921), "The Closing Door" (1919), Rachel: A Play in Three Acts (1920), "The Black Finger" (1923).

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Harris, Trudier ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography: African-American Writers Before the Harlem Renaissance. Vol. 50. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986.

Hull, Akasha. "'Under the Days': The Buried Life and Poetry of Angelina Weld Grimké." in Smith, Barbara. ed. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2000.

Jayasundera, Ymitri. "Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958)." in Nelson, Emmanuel S. ed. African American Authors, 1745-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Mitchell, Koritha A. "Antilynching Plays: Angelina Weld Grimké, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and the Evolution of African American Drama." in McCaskill, Barbara and Gebhard, Caroline. eds. Post-Bellum, Pre-Harlem: African American Literature and Culture. NY: New York UP, 2006.

Parker, Alison M. Articulating Rights: Nineteenth-Century American Women on Race, Reform, and the State. DeKalb: Northern Illinois UP, 2010.

Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. Early Black American Playwrights & Dramatic Writers. NY: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Wall, Cheryl A. Women of the Harlem Renaissance. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Wilbanks, Charles. ed. Walking by Faith: The Diary of Angelina Grimké, 1828-1835. Columbia: U of South Carolina P; 2003.

Witalec, Janet and Trudier Harris-Lopez. eds. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Gale, 2002.

| Top |Angelina Weld Grimke (1880-1958): A Brief Biography

A Student Project by Kerri Shaffer

Angelina Weld Grimké is referred to as one of the outstanding women writers of the pre-Harlem Renaissance (Peterson, 91). Rejecting easy classification she is often considered important only as a "literary footnote," Grimké is seen as "a transitional figure standing somewhere between the writers of the genteel tradition and those of the Harlem Renaissance." (Harris, 149)

The daughter of Archibald Henry and Sarah Stanley, Angelina Weld Grimké was born into a distinguished biracial family in Boston in 1880 (Harris, 150). Her great-aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld, after whom she is named, was a white woman who left the south, along with her sister Sarah, to become an abolitionist and suffragist in the 1830s. Angelina and Sarah Grimké's brother, Henry, was not an abolitionist, however. After the death of his white wife, he took one of his slaves, Nancy Weston, as a mistress and fathered three sons, one of which is Archibald Henry Grimké.

With the aid of his aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld, Archibald attended Harvard Law School, and became a prominent attorney, diplomat, author and editor. Eventually, he served as president of the Washington D.C. NAACP chapter and vice-president of the national organization (Harris, 150).

Sarah Stanley Grimké, Angelina's mother, was a white writer whose parents opposed her interracial marriage. In 1883, Sarah took Angelina and left Archibald Henry, only to return her to her father four years later. Sarah Stanley Grimké never saw her daughter again (Harris, 150).

Angelina Weld Grimké had a very close relationship with her father, and enjoyed a privileged life throughout childhood. "Light-skinned and relatively unconscious of racial issues, she was protected from direct experience of most blacks of the period." (Harris, 151)

Grimké was educated at a variety of schools, including Carleton Academy, and Cushing Academy; she graduated from the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics in 1902. After graduation, she began teaching English at the Armstrong Manual Training School, and then in 1916, at Dunbar High School where she taught until she retired.

Grimké began writing when she was a young girl, but only a small portion of her work was ever published during her lifetime. By the time she wrote the play, Rachel (produced in 1916), and her short story "The Closing Door" (1919), Grimké seems to have become more aware of the problem of racial discrimination. In addition to these works, a few other short stories, some reviews and general nonfiction pieces, as well as some brief praise poems were published in various magazines and anthologies (Harris, 151). It should be mentioned that her play Rachel is viewed by many as the "first attempt to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people relating to the lamentable condition of ten millions of Colored citizens in this free republic." (Harris, 152) The play received mixed reviews during its run in 1916; however, Alain Locke and Montgomery Gregory called it "apparently the first successful drama written by a Negro and interpreted by Negro actors." (Harris, 152)

Although she is not considered a major player in the Harlem Renaissance, Grimké contributed quite a few of her published pieces to the Crisis and Opportunity, including "To the Dunbar High School" (Crisis, 1917) and "The Black Finger" (Opportunity, 1923). Her poetry was anthologized by some of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s: "Alain Locke (The New Negro, 1925) and Countee Cullen (Caroling Dusk, 1927), and white critic Robert T. Kerlin (Negro Poets and Their Poems, 1935)." (Harris, 151) At her death in 1958, most of Grimké's work remained unpublished. Gloria T. Hull, a literary commentator implies that "Grimké did not avidly pursue her writing career because her energies were invested in her emotional problems." (Harris, 151)

Many believe that Grimké experienced unhappiness over her sexual identity, and that the sad tone of her work is the result of inner turmoil. "In several poems and in her diaries Grimké expressed the frustration that her lesbianism created; thwarted longing is a theme in several poems." (Harris, 151) Apparently, she did have a relationship when she was younger with a Mamie Burrill, but later in life she suppressed her desires (Harris, 151). Grimké's adult years were seemingly unhappy, partly because of her father's death in 1930.

After her father's death, Angelina Weld Grimké moved from Washington D.C. to New York, to work on her writing in a new environment. But during this time she produced nothing &emdash; Arna Bontemps says that Grimké "spent the last years of her life in quiet retirement in a New York City apartment." (Harris, 151)

Grimké is probably most studied today because of her poetry. Her work shares similarities with that of Jessie Redmon Fauset, Anne Spencer, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Countee Cullen and William Stanley Braithwaite, in that she frequently tends to avoid racial subjects and dialect. Grimké uses images to tell a story in her poetry, and seems to be influenced by Romantic and Victorian writers (Harris, 154). Some of Grimké's unpublished poems are more explicitly lesbian, implying that she lived a life of suppression, "both personal and creative." (Harris, 155)

Grimké has received little critical attention. Her play, Rachel, has received the most attention as a first-fruit of future African-American playwrights. However, the play is difficult to stage and would not likely appeal to a modern audience. Grimké's poems, on the other hand, are the works of great skill and intensity that deserve much more attention than they receive (Harris, 155).

Grimké's poems do seem to be sparking more interest in recent years, especially within the lesbian literary community. Her themes of loneliness, alienation and suppression of emotion attract readers because they still maintain modern day relevancy.

Works Cited

Harris, Trudier ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography: African-American Writers Before the Harlem Renaissance. Vol. 50. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1986.

Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. Early Black American Playwrights & Dramatic Writers. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Wall, Cheryl A. Women of the Harlem Renaissance. Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1995.

Study Questions

1. Amy Lowell and Angelina Weld Grimké have in common that they have been neglected by critics, that they both write love poems about women, and that they both use techniques of imagism in their poetry. Study their anthologized (and other) poems and locate finer points of comparison and contrast in their work.

2. As Baym writes, Grimké is associated with the Harlem Renaissance movement even though she was not a resident of Harlem. Compare her poetry with the work of Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes, and explore possible differences in Grimké's treatment of racial themes.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page:

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 9: Angelina Weld Grimke " PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap9/grimke.html (provide page date or date of your login).
 

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