Black American Prose Writers: Before the Harlem Renaissance

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview
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William Stanley Braithwaite

WILLIAM STANLEY BRAITHWAITE was born in Boston on December 26, 1878, the son of Emma De Wolfe and William Smith Braithwaite. His father, who was from a distinguished West Indian family, educated the Braithwaite children in the genteel atmosphere of their home. Upon the death of the elder Braithwaite, William Stanley, now in his eighth year, began to attend school. His formal education came to an end four years later when his desire to help support his family led to an apprenticeship at Ginn & Company, where he was exposed to the world of books. Braithwaite made frequent trips to the Boston Public Library to educate himself.

In June 1903 Braithwaite married Emma Kelly, with whom he had seven children. His first volume of poetry, Lyrics of Life and Love, was published in 1904 and reflected the influence of the English Romantic poets, especially Keats and Shelley. Although Braithwaite favorably reviewed many poets who used nontraditional poetic language and devices, his own poetry was, for the most part, marked by technical precision and recognizable literary influences. His poems continued to be published in magazines and journals such as New England Magazine, American Magazine, Voice, Century, Atlantic Monthly, and Book News Monthly. In 1908 his second collection of verse, The House of Falling Leaves, was published. The volume showed an increasing attraction toward the sonnet as well as a tendency toward mysticism— possibly a reflection of Braithwaite's interest in William Blake—and included many pieces in celebration of particular persons. Though he was not insensitive to the plight of fellow black American writers, Braithwaite's early poetry was not influenced by, or concerned with, issues of race.

The depth of Braithwaite's interest in poetry was manifested in his emergence as a leading critic of verse. The influence of his columns in the Boston Transcript, articles in black periodicals, and the appearance of his Poetry Journal in 1912 (a short-lived enterprise that lasted only until 1914) inspired W. E. B. Du Bois to call Braithwaite "the most prominent critic of poetry in America." Braithwaite did much to foster new American poets, especially


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