The Chicago Poetry Group: African American Art and High Modernism at Midcentury

By Najar, Lubna | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The Chicago Poetry Group: African American Art and High Modernism at Midcentury


Najar, Lubna, Women's Studies Quarterly


Most popular accounts of African American literature gravitate toward two brilliant explosions: the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The decades between these two literary moments are conspicuous largely through their absence from the narrative of twentieth-century African American art. Though individual writers of the intervening years have been canonized, there is little sense of the type of literary community that might have existed among African American artists during the 1950s, for example. Yet it is implausible that such talents as Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks emerged fully formed from the ether. Surely they had literary compatriots and institutions, organs of publication that influenced the subjects and modes of their art. Recent work has begun to shed light on the literary happenings of these lost years, often placing the work of Richard Wright at the center of a "Chicago Renaissance" that developed through the 1940s and 1950s. Such a portrait privileges the novel and Wright's particular project of a "new realism" as the characterizing aesthetic of this latter Renaissance. Equally important to this period, however, were a variety of creative endeavors emanating from Chicago's South Side Community Art Center. Gwendolyn Brooks memorialized one such enterprise, the Chicago Poetry Group, in her autobiography, Report Jrom Part One. Brooks fondly recalls the workshop as an early stage in her development as a poet, and thus has it been dutifully invoked in many critical discussions of her work." As a pole of African American literary culture in the forties and fifties, however, the poetry group merits greater attention for what it can reveal about a lesser-known dimension of a little-known period.

The poetry group was more properly a poetry class, and only a drop in the bucket of classes taught at the South Side Community Art Center, most of which involved visual arts of some kind.' The center, born of the WPA's Federal Arts Project, matured into (and remains) a meeting place for community members interested in the arts, as well as a studio for up-and-coming black artists. The poetry classes were a natural extension of its focus on self-expression across media, including sculpture and painting. Taught by Inez Cunningham Stark, the Gold Coast art patron who sat on the board of Poetry magazine, the class was intended to "cultivate" poetic talent among the South Side's young black artists by training them in modernist aesthetics. Aside from Brooks, the student who arguably went on to make the most of her poetry instruction, participants included Margaret Burroughs, Robert Davis, William Couch, John Carlis, and Margaret Danner Cunningham. Though none of these figures achieved Brooks's level of fame, they all remained active in the arts throughout their lives. In the years immediately following the poetry class, almost all of its students were published, often in local African American publications such as Negro Story. Later in the 1950s, the members of the poetry group entered professional life, though not, in most cases, as poets. Margaret Burroughs, originally instrumental in founding the community center itself, went on to found the DuSable Museum of African American History. Though trained in sculpture and painting, she is best known as a printmaker whose work has been exhibited in many American museums. She also published several volumes of poetry over the course of her life (Mullen, 97). John Carlis became a noted painter and sculptor during the 1950s. Robert Davis, though he published only once-an autobiographical sketch in Negro Story-went on to a long career as a TV and film actor under the name Davis Roberts. William Couch published poetry regularly, though with little fanfare, in issue after issue of Negro Story in 1944 and 1945. He eventually taught college English and, in the 1960s, edited a volume of black playwrights. Taken together, the lifework of even the lesser-known participants in the poetry group represents a remarkably wide-ranging engagement across the artistic spectrum. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Chicago Poetry Group: African American Art and High Modernism at Midcentury
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.