Modern Black American Poets and Dramatists

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Margaret Walker

b. 1915

MARGARET ABIGAIL WALKER was born on July 7, 1915, in Birmingham, Alabama.Her parents, Reverend Sigismund C. and Marion Dozier Walker, provided a culturally and academically rich environment for Margaret's upbringing. She was introduced not only to the Bible and to the standard English classics but also to black American literature and the folk mythology of the South.

Walker attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she became involved with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), working with troubled young women in Chicago's North Side. She began an unpublished novel, " Goose Island," about this community. After graduating from Northwestern Walker was hired as a junior writer for the WPA Writers' Project in Chicago, where she met such black literary figures as Willard Motley, Frank Yerby, Richard Wright, Arna Bontemps, and Sterling Brown. Walker and Wright became close friends and offered suggestions on the revision of each other's work. Her first poem had been published in the Crisis in 1934, and a few years later her poems were appearing in the prestigious Poetry and other magazines. Walker supplied considerable research for Wright's novel Native Son ( 1940), but in 1939 Wright abruptly broke off the friendship, wrongly believing that Walker had spread gossip about him.

Walker resumed her studies at the University of Iowa, securing an M.A. in 1940. Her thesis was a collection of poems published in 1942 under the title For My People, the first book by a black American woman to appear in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. The poems, written in long, cadenced stanzas reminiscent of biblical verse, utilize folk materials to illustrate the trials of blacks in America, but also stress the depth of Walker's attachment to her native South.

In 1941 Walker accepted a teaching position at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina.In June 1943 she married Firnist James Alexander, with whom she had four children. In 1949 she accepted a position at Jackson

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