Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ages of African American poets when they published popular poems

Frances E. W. Harper, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou

At what point in their careers did African American poets publish their poems that became their most known? Years ago, I read interviews where Gwendolyn Brooks expressed disappointment that editors and even audiences seemed to fixate on poem "We Real Cool," while ignoring many of her other works. Since I was recently looking at 52 most anthologized African American poems, I was curious about the different ages of poets when they first published poems what became their most reprinted works.

Here's a rundown of some of the poets and their approximate ages at the times some of their most well-known poems were first published.

Langston Hughes was 19 years old when "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"  was first published in the June 1921 issue in Crisis magazine. Phillis Wheatley was roughly 20 years old when  her poem "On Being Brought from Africa to America" appeared in her volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773). Countee Cullen was 21 when "Yet Do I Marvel" was published in Century magazine in 1924, and Margaret Walker's most anthologized poem "For My People" was first published in 1937 in Poetry magazine when she was 22.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was 24 when "We Wear the Mask" was published in 1896. When "Nikki-Rosa" was published in 1968, Nikki Giovanni was 25. Jean Toomer was 28 when "Georgia Dusk" and "Song of the Son" were published in 1922, a year before the poems appeared in Toomer's collection Cane (1923). Frances E. W. Harper was 29 when her poem "The Slave Auction" was published.

What about poets in their 30s? Claude McKay turned 30 in 1919 when his poem "If We Must Die" was first published. George Moses Horton  was 31 when "On Liberty and Slavery" was published in 1828; Robert Hayden was 31 when he first published "Middle Passage" in Phylon in 1944; and Amiri Baraka was also about 31 when his popular poems "Black Art" and "A Poem for Black Hearts" were first published.

Etheridge Knight  was 37 when his poem “The Idea of Ancestry" was published in his volume Poems from Prison (1968). Dudley Randall was 39 when his poem "Booker T. and W. E. B."was published in 1953. James Weldon Johnson was 37 when his poem "O Black and Unknown Bards" was published in 1908, and he was 47 when his poem "The Creation" was published in 1918. 

Gwendolyn Brooks was 42 when her regularly reprinted poem "We Real Cool" was first published in Poetry in 1959. Maya Angelou was 50 when her poems "Still I Rise" and "Phenomenal Woman" were published in 1978.  

Poets by Birth Year
A Notebook on Birth Years & Age Matters 

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