Invisible Giants: Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation but Missed the History Books

By Mark Carnes | Go to book overview

Sterling A. Brown
[1 MAY 1901–13 JANUARY 1989]

Sterling A. Brown's poems strike me as being among the most alive of American poems. His fury holds steady and sings; his humor cuts true; his music compels, by its formal inevitabilities and its free-wheel improvisations. How many poems in English have the moral force, the balance, the irony, the brilliant metric change of pace of “Old Lem”? And, with all their fierceness—clothed in it, and in their stringent, flexible rhythms and harmonics—his poems embody so much love for courage, and for the sensual, and for human honor.

SHARON OLDS

Sterling Allen Brown, professor of English, poet, and essayist, was born in Washington, D. C., the son of Sterling Nelson Brown, a minister and divinity school professor, and Adelaide Allen. After graduating as valedictorian from Dunbar High School in 1918, Brown matriculated at Williams College, where he studied French and English literature and won the Graves Prize for an essay on Moliere and Shakespeare. He was graduated from Williams in 1922 with Phi Beta Kappa honors and a Clark fellowship for graduate studies in English at Harvard University. Once at Harvard, Brown studied with Bliss Perry and notably with George Lyman Kittredge, the distinguished scholar of Shakespeare and the ballad. Kittredge's example as a scholar of both formal and vernacular forms of literature doubtlessly encouraged Brown to contemplate a similar professorial career, though for Brown the focus would be less on the British Isles than on the United States and on AfricanAmerican culture in particular. Brown received his M. A. in English from Harvard in 1923 and went south to his first teaching job at Virginia Seminary and College at Lynchburg.

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