Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xviii

From the moment I first encountered the vast treasure trove of women’s poetry in New Negro journals and anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance over twenty years ago, three poems lodged in my mind with particular staying power. Angelina Weld Grimké’s “El Beso” took my breath away as the scene moved from twilight calm to a woman’s provocative laughter to her alluring mouth to a moment of mad surrender and finally to sobbing regret before returning to quiet...

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1. The Lyric Poetry of Angelina Weld Grimké, Gwendolyn B. Bennett, and Mae V. Cowdery

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pp. 1-28

In the spring of 1927, Angelina Grimké, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Mae Cowdery were beginning what would prove to be a banner year. Spring was a season they frequently celebrated, as did all poets of the Harlem Renaissance, for it symbolized the rebirth of African Americans in the modern age, the New Negro casting off plantation stereotypes. “Toss your gay heads, brown girl trees; / Toss your gay lovely heads,” Grimké joyfully shouts in “At April”; “Night wears...

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2. Angelina Weld Grimké’s Sapphic Temple of Desire

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pp. 29-96

Well before her success as a well-regarded poet and playwright of the Harlem Renaissance, on February 8, 1902, Angelina Grimké (February 27, 1880–June 10, 1958) sat down to record her thirty-second poem in the poetry notebook she had kept since age eleven. She was about to turn twenty-two on February 27 and was living in Boston with her longtime friend, Tessa Lee, while both of them studied to be physical education...

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3. Harlem’s Phoenix: Gwendolyn B. Bennett

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pp. 97-154

In contrast to Angelina Weld Grimké, whose birth in 1880 precluded her inclusion in the youthful vanguard of the Harlem Renaissance, Gwendolyn Bennett (July 8, 1902–May 30, 1981) hit the 1920s arts movement at just the right time. Not only was Bennett born twenty-two years later than Grimké, she was a New Yorker poised to enter the vibrant scene of Harlem after World War I. She went to public high school in Brooklyn and entered Columbia University in...

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4. Shattered Mirror: The Failed Promise of Mae V. Cowdery

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pp. 155-216

If Angelina Grimké’s and Gwendolyn Bennett’s verse from the late 1920s came at the end of their public creative writing careers, Mae Cowdery’s poetry as the decade drew to a close marked the beginning of hers. Mae V. Cowdery (January 10, 1909–November 2, 1948) was only seven years younger than Bennett and she had the benefit of following in the path of her groundbreaking role models, but her early promise as a prizewinning poet faded more quickly...

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Epilogue

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pp. 217-222

After combing through the contours of their lives and aligning the verse with those remarkable journeys, I am struck by how open Grimké, Bennett, and Cowdery were in their lyric poetry when all of them were so visible in their communities. Grimké was the daughter of a major organizer for the NAACP in Washington, D.C., with whom she lived, and the niece of the city’s most influential...

Appendix A. List of Published Poetry

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pp. 223-225

Appendix B. Selected List of Unpublished Poetry

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p. 226

Notes

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pp. 227-250

Bibliography

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pp. 251-255

Further Reading

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pp. 256-260

Index

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pp. 261-269

About the Author

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p. 270