| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Born Annie Bethel Scales in Bramwell, West Virginia,
Anne Spencer was educated at the Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg. Selected to
deliver the major student address at the commencement on May 8, 1899, Annie,
for her uplifting oration, merited widespread acclaim and respect. Accompanying
a gift—a four-volume set of Emerson—that Dr. Richard H. Bolling, head of the
Negro Baptist Publishing Board of Nashville, had given Annie was a maxim: “Take
what you have and make what you want.” This advice she treasured, and it
evolved through the years as her personal philosophy. Two years later, Annie
married Edward Spencer, a former classmate, and they settled in Lynchburg.
was intensely interested in the world about her, yet remained apart from active
society, except when cultivating literary friends and visitors such as W.E.B.
Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and others. She also corresponded
with Carl Van Vechten and H.L. Mencken. Yet, under certain conditions, Spencer
was an initiator, organizer, and a fighter for human rights. She helped
mobilize black citizens to oppose political and civil injustices in the
Lynchburg community. An independent thinker and doer, she assumed the pen name
Anne Spencer by which her poetry is identified. Having read Emerson’s works
closely throughout her life, she asserted, “Do your ‘own thing’ is right out of
Emerson...it is not new.” During her mid-life, she became the librarian at the
Dunbar High School to supplement her family’s income when her children reached
began writing poetry before the Harlem Renaissance, but her poetry first
appeared during this period, notably in Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk (1927).
Spencer’s verse is somewhat conventional and, like much of the poetry of
William Stanley Braithwaite and Cullen, is nonracial in theme. She admitted
that she possessed “no civilized articulation for the things she hated.”
Spencer develops vibrant images to communicate a uniquely private experience
that becomes profound, reflecting her sensibility to a moral code that man
evidences, her fidelity to exoticism as a romantic component, her innate love
of nature, her search for the ideal while acknowledging reality, and her dual
treatment of the imagination involving both character and reader.
never had a volume of her own poems published. She was content to probe and
pursue her private musings, often, however, interacting or
collaborating with other writers who sought her views and valued her
editorial comments. Through several decades her creativity has been respected
and admired, for her poems have appeared in nearly every anthology of African
American literature; moreover, she created new poems and revised previous
compositions until her final year: her poem titled “1975” was composed in 1974.
Spencer’s poetry of affirmation will endure, appealing to all who seek insights
concerning humankind’s relationship to the past, present, and future.
Evelyn H. Roberts|
St. Louis Community College at Meramec
In the Heath Anthology
Lines to Nasturtium
For Jim, Easter Eve
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A collection of Spencer's poetry.
Perspectives in American Literature
A bibliography of primary and secondary texts.
J. Lee Greene, Time's Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer's Life and Poetry, 1977