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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Gwendolyn B. Bennett

Her name is not the best known of African American authors, but Gwendolyn Bennett is being mentioned more and more often as an overlooked figure during the New Negro Renaissance and later. Born in Giddings, Texas, in 1902, to Joshua and Maime Bennett—a lawyer and a schoolteacher—she was raised in Nevada and Washington, D.C., before settling with her father and his second wife in New York City, where she attended high school and then Columbia University. Bennett wrote little, but she was a close friend and associate of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman, and Zora Neale Hurston. This group of young writers collaborated in publishing Fire!!, a literary magazine that folded after one issue but is now a collector’s item. Like Countee Cullen, Bennett wrote a column, “Ebony Flute,” in Opportunity magazine, and she was later active in the Federal Writer’s Project and the Federal Art Project. Her poems are included in a dozen or more anthologies of black American writing, including Charles S. Johnson’s influential Ebony and Topaz.

In addition to writing poetry that was published in Crisis, Opportunity, Messenger, and Palms magazines, Gwendolyn Bennett worked in the Harlem Art Center during the 1940s. She had been formally trained as an artist, having received a certificate from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1924 before being appointed to the faculty of Howard University, where she taught art for several years.

Her poem “To Usward” was written for a dinner the National Urban League held in New York on May 21, 1924, in honor of the publication of Jessie Fauset’s novel There Is Confusion. The other works here represent Bennett’s pursuit of the lyrical tradition in writing highly personal poetry.

Walter C. Daniel
University of Missouri at Columbia

In the Heath Anthology
Heritage (1923)
To Usward (1924)
Advice (1927)
Lines Written at the Grave of Alexander Dumas (1927)

Other Works

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To A Dark Girl
Bennet's poem.

Modern American Poetry
Criticism, a brief biography, and some poems for reading online.

Selected Articles Indexed in the MLA International Bibliography Database
Three citations for articles on Bennett and the Harlem Renaissance.

The Black Renaissance in Washington, D.C.
A hypertext biography and (primary and secondary) bibliography.

Secondary Sources

Maureen Honey, Shadowed Dreams: Women's Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, 1989