Chapter 9: The Harlem Renaissance
(Also known as the "New Negro Movement")

Anne Spencer
1882-1975

© Paul P. Reuben
June 16, 2014
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Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap. 9: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |  


Source:
Anne Bethel Spencer 

 "White Things"

Most things are colorful things--the sky, earth, and sea.
Black men are most men; but the white are free!
White things are rare things; so rare, so rare
They stole from out a silvered world--somewhere.
Finding earth-plains fair plains, save greenly grassed,
They strewed white feathers of cowardice, as they passed;
The golden stars with lances fine
The hills all red and darkened pine,
They blanched with their wand of power;
And turned the blood in a ruby rose
To a poor white poppy-flower.
They pyred a race of black, black men,
And burned them to ashes white; then,
Laughing, a young one claimed a skull,
For the skull of a black is white, not dull,
But a glistening awful thing;
Made, it seems, for this ghoul to swing
In the face of God with all his might,
And swear by the hell that sired him:
"Man-maker, make white!"

 

Primary Works and Contributions

Forty-two of the fifty complete poems of Anne Spencer can be found in J. Lee Greene's Time's Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer's Life and Poetry (1977).

The poems "Before the Feast of Shushan," "At the Carnival," "The Wife-Woman," "Translation," and "Dunbar," appear in James Weldon Johnson's compilation The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922).

In Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets (1927), edited by Countee Cullen, one can find Spencer's poems "Substitution," "Innocence," "Neighbors," "Questing," "Life-Long, Poor Browning," "I Have a Friend," and "Creed."

"Letter to My Sister" can be found in Charles S. Johnson's Ebony and Topaz: A Collectanea (1927).

"For Jim, Easter Eve" can be found in The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949), edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps.

Anne's other important works include "White Things," "Lady, Lady," "Lines to a Nasturtium (A Lover Muses)," "Rime for the Christmas Baby," "Grapes: Still-Life," and "Requiem."

Anne's poems are filled with themes of friendship, human relations, personal rights of women, and contempt for racial discrimination. Her settings, moods, and themes came directly from her everyday life. She masterfully created metaphors for human life by using images in her garden, such as birds, flowers, and insects.

After she became hospitalized, "many friends and neighbors visiting her home evidently assumed the countless pieces of scrap paper on which she had written lines of poetry were useless," and they innocently threw them away (Harris 259). Thus, much her work written five years before her death was lost.

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Johnston, Sara A. "Anne Spencer (1882-1975)." in Champion, Laurie. ed. American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.

Frischkorn, Rebecca T. and Reuben M. Rainey. Half My World: The Garden of Anne Spencer. Lynchburg, VA: Warwick House P. 2003.

Harris, Trudier. Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 51. Detroit: Gale, 1986.

Quartermain, Peter. ed. American Poets, 1890-1945: Third Series, Part 2: N-Z. Detroit: Gale, 1987.

Shockley, Evie. Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2011.

Showalter, Elaine. ed. The Vintage Book of American Women Writers. NY: Vintage, 2011.

Witalec, Janet. ed. Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion. Detroit: Gale, 2002.

| Top |Anne Spencer (1882-1975): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Jennifer Springer  

Anne Spencer was nearly forty years old when her first work was published and many of her other works went unpublished until after she was deceased. She is one of the less studied authors of the Harlem Renaissance, but is just as important as many of them.

Spencer was born February 6, 1882 and died July 12, 1975. She was born on a plantation in Virginia where she lived with her parents Sarah Louise Scales and Joel Cephus Bannister until she was the age of five. She then moved to live in West Virginia with a foster family while her mother worked to earn money to support the two of them. Spencer did not go to school until she was eleven years old. At this time she was enrolled in a Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. She was the youngest and the brightest in the school and finished her schooling as the valedictorian. At this time she also began to write poetry such as "The Skeptic" (1896).

After graduating, Spencer went on to teach school for two years in Bramwell and then went on to marry a tutor that she had in school, by the name of Edward Spencer. They had three children consisting of two girls and a boy. Luckily the couple was able to afford caregivers for the children and Spencer was able to spend time in her garden by which many of her poems were inspired.

Spencer's garden seemed to get her creative juices flowing. This is seen in many of her poems that have the theme of nature and beauty. In some poems such as "Lines to a Nasturtium" and "Grapes: Still-Life" Spencer addresses plants. She even thanks the earth in one of her poems. In Half My World: The Garden of Anne Spencer, Rebecca Frischkorn writes, "There was a rich cross-fertilization between her poems and the artistic expression of her garden." ( Frischkorn 106)

Spencer did not only write poems, but she was involved in political activism as well. It is written in African-American Writers: A Dictionary that "She stirred up a protest against the employment of all-white faculty at the segregated black-student-only high school in Lynchburg, and her actions led to the hiring of African-American teachers there." (Spencer, 331). She also worked with James Weldon Johnson to establish a chapter of the NAACP in Lynchburg. Johnson was able to get a taste of her writing and helped her get some published. Her first poem to be published was "Before the Feast of Shushan," which was put in the journal Crisis. Walter White gave Spencer a great review in the Nation (1922) of her poem and in the New Republic, Robert Littell said, "Miss Spencer has great mastery over dreamy, half-mystical melodies." (Greene 54) Shortly after, Johnson included five of her poems in his published work, The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922). Also, a well-known writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen, published ten of Spencer's poems in his anthology Caroling Dusk (1927). This may seem like a great beginning, but that was most of the works that were published or even heard about of Anne Spencer until after she died. She was definitely not shy about where she stood on political issues, but when it came to her writing, she was quite shy.

Although Spencer is less often studied along with the more well known authors of the Harlem Renaissance, she was well known and highly esteemed during the Renaissance. She was in many anthologies including those of Alain Locke and Langston Hughes. Spencer was not just involved with these great literary figures through writing, but through friendship as well. She opened her house to many friends such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others. People came to stay at her house, especially African-Americans because many hotels along their travels would not allow them to stay.

Spencer's mentor, Johnson, died in 1938, which led to Spencer's poem "For Jim, Easter Eve." Along with her mentor went her writing. This poem was the last poem to be published while she still lived. She was not as involved with other writers anymore and became even more distant when her husband died in 1964. She still wrote, but none of the writings were published. After her death, many of her poems were gathered together to form the book Times Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer's Life and Poetry (1977).

Works Cited

Frischkorn, Rebecca T. and Reuben M. Rainey. Half My World: The Garden of Anne Spencer. Lynchburg, VA: Warwick House P. 2003.

Greene, J. Lee. Time's Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer's Life and Poetry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP. 1977.

"Anne Spencer." African-American Writers: A Dictionary. Eds. Hatch, Shari Dorantes and Michael R. Strickland. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 2000.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

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

 

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