Emanuel, James A. 1921–

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James A. Emanuel 1921

Poet, scholar

Entered College after World War II

Became a Poet

Turned Militant

Found Love in France

Invented Jazz Haiku

Selected writings


In his half century as a poet, James A. Emanuels poetry has evolved from traditional forms to free verse, and from traditional themes of childhood, love, and black manhood to expressions of black rage and black pride. His poems are both personal and political. During the 1990s Emanuel developed a poetic form that he called the jazz haiku, using the language and rhythms of jazz to broaden the subject matter of the traditional Japanese poetic form. Underappreciated as a poet, Emanuel may be better known as a literary critic and an early revivalist of the literary heritage of black Americans.

Entered College after World War II

James Andrew Emanuel was born on June 15, 1921, in Alliance, Nebraska, the fifth of seven children. He listened to his mother read stories from the Bible and the Saturday Evening Post, the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Booker T. Washingtons autobiography. Emanuel knew from early in life that he wanted to be a writer. He memorized popular poetry and wrote poems and mystery and detective stories. He graduated from high school as valedictorian.

During his teenage years Emanuel worked at a variety of jobs throughout the Midwest. At the age of 20, he moved to Washington, D.C., as confidential secretary to the assistant inspector general of the U.S. Army. In order to attend college he joined the army in 1944, serving in the South Pacific.

Emanuel graduated from Howard University and worked at the Chicago Army and Air Force Induction Station while pursuing his masters degree at Northwestern University. While working toward his Ph.D. at Columbia University, Emanuel taught English and commercial subjects at the Harlem YWCA Business School. He taught English at the City College of New York (CCNY) while writing his dissertation on the black author and poet Langston Hughes.

Became a Poet

Emanuels earliest poems appeared in college publications and in Ebony Rhythm in 1948. By the late 1950s he was deeply involved in verse, writing traditional poems in the styles of English masters. As Emanuels friendship with Langston Hughes developed, he gained a critical reader for his early drafts. From Hughes he learned to write with the consciousness of black experience. With a goal of reaching the largest possible audience, Emanuel wrote in clear and simple language. In 1958 his poetry began appearing in various periodicals, including the New York Times, Negro Digest, Midwest Quarterly, and Freedomways. By 1964 Emanuel was giving public poetry readings.

Emanuel loved and respected the energy and passion of youth. His son James, Jr., inspired numerous poems including A Clown at Ten: We should have known // His pull-ups on the closet pole, // His swimming in the kitchen zone, // His pugilistic body roll // On the church pew // And museum queue // Were ways to storm the pass // For the smallest in his class. The Treehouse and Other Poems included many of

At a Glance

Born James Andrew Emanuel on June 15, 1921, in Alliance, NE; married Mattie Etha Johnson; divorced; children: James Andrew, Jr. (died 1983). Education: Howard University, Washington, DC, BA (summa cum laude), 1950; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, MA, 1953; Columbia University, New York City, PhD, 1962. Military Service: U.S. Army, 93rd infantry Division, staff sergeant, 1944-46.

Career: Poet and author, 1948;City College of New York, instructor, 1957-62; City College of New York, assistant professor, 1962-70; City College of New York, associate professor, 1970-72; City College of New York, professor, 1972-84, University of Grenoble, Fulbright professor, 1968-69; Broadside Critics Series, general editor, 1969-75; University of Toulouse, visiting professor, 1971-73, 1979-81; University of Warsaw, Fulbright professor, 1975-76.

Memberships: Fulbright Alumni Association.

Awards: U.S. Army Commendation Ribbon; John Hay Whitney Found Opportunity fellowship, 1952-54; Eugene F. Saxton Memorial Trust fellowship, 1964; Black American Literature Forum, special distinction award for poetry, 1978; American Biographical Institute, Notable American, 1979.

Addresses: Home and Office -B.P. 339, 75266 Paris Cedex 06, France.

Emanuels early reflective works. It received little critical attention.

Acutely aware of his heritage as a black poet, Emanuel became increasingly interested in other overlooked black writers. In 1966 he initiated CCNYs first course on black poetry, leading to several essays and the book version of his dissertation on Hughes. In 1968 he co-edited Black Symphony, the first major anthology of black American writing in 30 years. Emanuel judged his writings on Hughes and in Black Symphony to be among his best prose.

Turned Militant

In 1966 Emanuel became embroiled in racial politics when he ran for the Mount Vernon, New York, school board. Conducting an all-black campaign, he called for curriculum reforms, including the teaching of black literature, and he organized a black boycott of local merchants. Emanuel and his family were publicly attacked and investigated, as described in the poem For Mr. Dudley, a Black Spy. The experience radicalized Emanuel. His marriage began to deteriorate.

Emanuels poems from this period were collected in Panther Man. In the preface he described them as a reflection of personal, racially meaningful predicaments, stemming from my feelings about the most abysmal evil in the modern world: American racism. The title poem referred to the 1969 murders of Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton by Chicago police: Wouldnt think // t look at m // he was so damn bad // they had t sneak up on m, // shoot m in his head // in his bed // sleepin // Afroed up 3 inches // smilin gunpowder. Like The Treehouse, Panther Man garnered scant critical notice.

Between 1970 and 1975 Emanuel was general editor of five volumes on black American poets, part of the Broadside Critics series. In his analysis of the poetic process, How I Write/2, he analyzed his own poems and those of other black poets.

Found Love in France

Emanuel spent several years teaching at French universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By 1973 he was back in New York, in the midst of a bitter divorce and completely cut off from his son. Emanuel had met Marie-France Bertrand in Toulouse in 1972, and she became his companion and the focus of his love poems. Her mothers home, Le Barry, France, became the poets retreat.

The poems in Black Man Abroad describe Emanuels personal struggle to rise above heartbreak and poetic stagnation. These poems were longer, more personal, and more complex, often dealing with parental, racial, and romantic love. Emanuel began receiving some recognition and A Chisel in the Dark included 22 poems from The Treehouse and Panther Man which had become unavailable. Returning to the University of Toulouse, France, Emanuel taught courses on his own poetry and directed theses on black literary figures. A Poets Mind was an anthology including Emanuels poems with text and exercises, for use by foreign students of English.

Following his retirement from CCNY, Emanuel traveled and lived in Europe. The 215 poems in Whole Grain represented the many broad themes that Emanuel had developed throughout his career.

Invented Jazz Haiku

During the 1990s Emanuel invented a form he called jazz haiku, combining the musical expression of black Americans with the strict structure of Japanese haiku. In the process he transformed haiku from a single, simple expression, to include narrative, rhyme, and vastly expanded subject matter. Dizzy Gillespie (News of His Death) reads: Dizzys bellows pumps // Jazz balloon inflates, floats high // Earth listens, stands by. Critic Brian Gilmore described Emanuels work in Black Issues Book Review: Emanuel is not afraid to blend poetrys traditions and innovations onto the canvas in a seemingly endless series of haikus paying tribute to the first world music and, in effect, producing jazz riffs on the page for the reader.

Emanuels essays, poems, and other writings have appeared in numerous periodicals and more than 120 anthologies. He wrote two unpublished autobiographies: From the Bad Lands to the Capital (1943-44) and Snowflakes and Steel: My Life as a Poet, 1971-1980.

Selected writings


The Treehouse and Other Poems (includes A Clown at Ten), Broadside Press, 1968; recording, Broadside Voices, 1968.

At Bay, Broadside Press, 1969.

Panther Man (includes For Mr. Dudley, a Black Spy), Broadside Press, 1970; recording, Broadside Voices, 1970.

Black Man Abroad: The Toulouse Poems, Lotus Press, 1978.

A Chisel in the Dark: Poems, Selected and New, Lotus Press, 1980.

The Broken Bowl: New and Uncollected Poems, Lotus Press, 1983.

A Poets Mind, Jean McConochie, ed., Regents, 1983.

Deadly James and Other Poems, Lotus Press, 1987.

The Quagmire Effect, American College, Paris, 1988.

Whole Grain: Collected Poems, 1958-1989, Lotus Press, 1991.

Reaching for Mumia: 16 Haiku, Linsomniaque éditeur, 1995.

JAZZ from the Haiku King (includes Dizzy Gillespie (News of His Death)), Broadside Press, 1999.

The Force and the Reckoning, Lotus Press, 2001.


Emersonian Virtue: A Definition, American Speech, May 1961, pp. 117-122.

Langston Hughes First Short Story: Mary Winosky, Phylon, Fall 1961, pp. 267-272.

The Invisible Men of American Literature, Books Abroad, Autumn 1963, pp. 391-394.

Langston Hughes, Twayne, 1967, 1995.

(With Theodore L. Gross) Editor, Dark Symphony: Negro Literature in America, Free Press, 1968.

(With MacKinlay Kantor and Lawrence Osgood) How I Write/2, Harcourt Brace, 1972.

The Challenge of Black Literature: Notes on Interpretation, The Black Writer in Africa and the Americas, Hannessey & Ingalls, 1973.



Emanuel, James A. A Force in the Field, Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 18, Gale, 1994.

Fabre, Michael, James Emanuel: A Poet in Exile, From Harlem to Paris, University of Illinois Press, 1991.

James A(ndrew, Sr.) Emanuel, Contemporary Poets, 7th ed., St. James Press, 2001.

Watson, Douglas, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 41, Gale, 1985, pp. 103-117.


African American Review, Winter 2001, p. 681-684.

Black Issues Book Review, March 2001, p. 38.


James A(ndrew, Sr.) Emanuel, Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (June 29, 2004).

Margaret Alic