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   from the issue of October 12, 2006

Honey's book examines forgotten Harlem Renaissance poets


In "Shadowed Dreams," English professor Maureen Honey illuminates the lives and work of African American women poets of the Harlem Renaissance.


The collection, a new edition of a book originally published in 1989, includes work by Angeline Grimke, Helene Johnson, Anne Spencer and Georgia Douglas Johnson.

Never heard of them? Honey wouldn't be surprised.

"When you ask someone to name a poet from the Harlem Renaissance, they say Langston Hughes," Honey said. "But they can't name a woman. So, I decided that I needed to give these women a stronger identity."

Harlem in the 1920s was a migration hub for African Americans from across the country - particularly the south. Though New York City was the epicenter of the flourishing artistic community, writers, musicians and artists gained notoriety nationwide. Their work explored common themes of spirituality, racial consciousness and pride, protest and empowerment. Women were equal participants in the Renaissance, Honey said, but over time their contributions were lost.

Since the 1989 version released, scholars have "discovered" a number of additional women poets from the era; Honey's new edition includes the work of 18 new writers in the total of 36 poets. It has also undergone a structural face lift.

"The first volume was organized thematically," Honey said. "This one, I organized by writer. Every poet has her own section, with a biographical description and collection of her work. I'm hoping that will give each poet a stronger sense of identity, so that when you say the name Gwendolyn Bennett, you'll have a sense of her voice and who she was."

Though she is inspired by all of the writing included in the book, Honey does have a few favorites. Anita Scott Coleman was a remarkable poet, she said, because she could write in the vernacular and also write lyrically. Always considered a "minor name," researchers have recently discovered a volume of poetry that she published under a pseudonym. Another writer, Lucy Mae Turner, was the granddaughter of Nat Turner, who led the largest slave revolt in American history. Her poems have not been published since 1938.

"These woman are so inspirational today, in their lives and in their artistry," Honey said.



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