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Braithwaite, William Stanley

Braithwaite, William Stanley

December 6, 1878
June 8, 1962

The son of an immigrant from British Guiana and the daughter of a former slave, William Stanley Beaumont Braithwaite, an author, was born and raised in Boston. He and three other siblings were educated at home until 1884, when his father's death left the family destitute. For some years afterward, Braithwaite attended public school, but he left when he was twelve and went to work full-time to support his family. He worked for several firms before finding employment as an errand boy at the publishing firm of Ginn & Co., where he eventually became apprenticed as a compositor. Braithwaite later claimed that he had been setting the first lines of John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" when he realized his passion for poetry and determined to write his own verse. He submitted poems and critical essays to various newspapers and magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly, the North American Review, and Scribner's, before publishing his first book of verse, Lyrics of Life and Love, in 1904. Two years later he began contributing essays and reviews to the Boston Evening Transcript and published his first anthology, Book of Elizabethan Verse. A second volume of poetry, House of Falling Leaves, appeared in 1908.

Braithwaite was appreciated more for his editorial efforts than for his own poems, which emulate the traditional forms, meters, and themes of British nineteenth-century works and make no reference to racial identity. Two additional anthologies, Book of Georgian Verse and Book of Restoration Verse, were published in 1908 and 1909. In 1913 Braithwaite produced the first Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook, the publication for which he is best known. The anthology appeared annually between 1913 and 1939 and included such Harlem Renaissance authors as Sterling Brown, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, and Anne Spencer, as well as the early work of Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Frost. Braithwaite also served as an editor for the Poetry Journal (19121914) and Poetry Review (19161917). In recognition of his literary accomplishments, he was awarded the NAACP's Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American in 1918; that same year, he received honorary degrees from Taladega College and Atlanta University. In 1922 Braithwaite founded the B. J. Brimmer Publishing Company and published several works, most notably Georgia Douglas Johnson's first volume of poetry, Bronze (1922), and James Gould Cozzen's first novel, Confusion (1924), before his firm folded in 1925. Braithwaite's famous essay, "The Negro in American Literature," appeared in Alain Locke's The New Negro that year. Braithwaite continued to support himself and his family through writing and editing before accepting a professorship in creative literature at Atlanta University, where he taught for ten years. During this time, he started to work on his autobiography, The House Under Arcturus, which was published in three parts in Phylon in 1941.

Braithwaite retired from teaching and moved to Harlem in 1945. He published a volume of his Selected Poems (1948); The Bewitched Parsonage, a critical work on the Brontës (1950); and the Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1958 (1959).

See also Cullen, Countee; Harlem Renaissance; Hughes, Langston; Johnson, James Weldon; McKay, Claude


Butcher, Philip, ed. The William Stanley Braithwaite Reader. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.

Harris, Trudier, and Thadious Davis, eds. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 51, Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. Detroit, Mich.: Gale, 1987.

Logan, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.

quandra prettyman (1996)

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