Gwendolyn B. Bennett

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Gwendolyn B. Bennett (July 8, 1903 – May 30, 1981) was an American artist, writer, and journalist who contributed to Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, which chronicled cultural advancements during the Harlem Renaissance. Though often overlooked, she herself made considerable accomplishments in poetry and prose. She is perhaps best known for her short story "Wedding Day", which was published in the first issue of Fire!! Bennett was a dedicated and self-preserving woman, respectfully known for being a strong influencer of African-American women rights during the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout her dedication and perseverance, Bennett raised the bar when it came to women's literature, and education. One of her contributions to the Harlem Renaissance was her literary acclaimed short novel "Poets Evening"; it helped the understanding within the African-American communities, resulting in many African-Americans coming to terms with identifying and accepting themselves.

Early life and work[edit]

Gwendolyn Bennett Bennett was born July 8, 1902, in Giddings, Texas, to Joshua Robbin Bennett[1] and Mayme F. (Abernethy) Bennett. She spent her early childhood in Wadsworth, Nevada, on the Paiute Indian Reservation. Her parents taught in the Indian Service for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 1906, when Bennett was four years old, her family moved to 1454 T Street Northwest, Washington D.C.,[2] so Joshua could study law at Howard University and Mayme could train to be a beautician. Gwendolyn's parents divorced when she was seven years old. Mayme gained custody of Gwendolyn; however Joshua Bennett kidnapped Gwendolyn and they lived in hiding, along with her stepmother, Marechal Neil, in various places in the East, including Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York, where she attended Brooklyn's Girls' High from 1918 to 1921. While attending Girls' High, Bennett was awarded first place in a school wide art contest, and was the first African American to join the literary and dramatic societies. She wrote her high school play and was also featured as an actress. She also wrote both the class graduation speech and the words to the graduation song.

After her graduation in 1921, Bennett took art classes at Columbia University and the Pratt Institute. In her undergraduate studies, her poem "Heritage" was published in The Crisis, magazine of the NAACP, during November 1923; in December of the same year, "Heritage" was included in Opportunity, a magazine published by the National Urban League. In 1924, her poem "To Usward" was chosen as a dedication for the introduction of Jessie Fauset's novel There Is Confusion at a Civic Club dinner hosted by Charles S. Johnson.[3] for they both highlight the struggle for a defined voice of freedom, as well as the struggle of patriotism in regards of War. For Fauset highlights the optimistic impact of War upon society, while Bennett pinpointed and clarified the sorrow War enacted upon society, both equally different and very similar.-

Bennett graduated from Columbia and Pratt in 1924 and received a position at Howard University, where she taught design, watercolor painting and crafts. A scholarship enabling her to study in Paris, France, at the Sorbonne, was awarded to Bennett during December 1924. She then continued her fine arts education at Academic Julian and Ecole du Pantheon in Paris. During her studies in Paris, Bennett worked with a variety of materials, including watercolor, oil, woodcuts, pen and ink, and batik, which was the beginning of her career as a graphic artist. However, most of her pieces from this period of her life were destroyed during a fire at her stepmother's home in 1926.

When Bennett left Paris in 1926, she headed back to New York to become the assistant to the editor for Opportunity.[4] During her time employed at Opportunity, she received the Barnes Foundation fellowship for her work in graphic design and the fine arts. Later during the same year she returned to Howard University once again to teach fine arts. While assistant to the editor at Opportunity she was given the chance to publish articles discussing topics involving literature and the fine arts, and her column titled "The Ebony Flute" (1926–28)[5]distributed news about the many creative thinkers involved with the Harlem Renaissance. In 1926, She was also a co-founder of the literary journal Fire!!. She reviewed many writers' works and gave criticism on a regular basis through Opportunity and Fire!!


Bennett was one of the prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Her heritage is a main theme in her poetry. Her works reflected the shared themes and motifs of the Harlem Renaissance. Racial pride, rediscovery of Africa, recognition of African music and dance were common themes in Bennett's works.

Her column, "The Ebony Flute", was Bennett's link to Harlem culture and social life. She used it to her advantage to network with other poets and to spread the news of the Renaissance. She featured other writers' work and would discuss them in her column. Although she never published a collection of her own works and poetry, she was a strong influence on the Harlem Renaissance by giving the African-American community racial pride. She also created a romantic vision of being African through romantic lyric.

Harlem circles[edit]

During 1923 to 1931, Bennett started a support group that provided a warm, supportive place for the young writers of Harlem that provided sustained association with their peers. Included in this group were Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Eric Walrond, Helene Johnson, Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent, Aaron Douglas, Alta Sawyer Douglas, Rudolph Fisher and Zora Neale Hurston. The major goal of the group was to motivate these young writers to support and encourage each other and who were also, in turn, encouraged to aspire to the levels of more established scholars such as Charles S. Johnson, Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jessie Fauset, and James Weldon Johnson. Bennett said in a 1979 interview that, "nothing like this particular life in which you saw the same group of people over and over again. You were always glad to see them. You always had an exciting time when you were with them." This Harlem circle that Gwendolyn developed helped her sustain her steady connection with the Renaissance in New York throughout a period of her life.


Her work during this period of her life was praised by her fellow writers in Harlem. The playwright Theodore Ward declared that Bennett's work was one of the "most promising of the poets out of the Harlem Renaissance" and also called Bennett a "dynamic figure... noted for her depth and understanding." J. Mason Brewer, an African-American folklorist and storyteller, called Bennett a "nationally known artist and poetess." Since Brewer was also a native Texan, he further stated that as a result of Bennett's Texassdfds birthplace, "Texans feel that they have a claim on her and that the beautiful and poignant lyrics she writes resulted partially from the impression of her early Texas surroundings". Bennett was a breath of Texan airs breezing through the halls of the Harlem Renaissance.

Later life and Harlem influence[edit]

Bennett left Harlem when she married Dr. Albert Joseph Jackson in 1927 and moved to Eustis, Florida. Jackson died in 1936 and Bennett moved back to New York. In 1940, she married educator and writer Richard Crosscup, who was of European ancestry. Their interracial marriage was not socially acceptable at Bennett's time. Harlem remained Bennett's passion, however, and during the late 1930s and the 1940s she remained in the arts. She served as a member of the Harlem Artists Guild in 1935, and the Harlem Community Art Center was under her leadership from 1939 to 1944. During this time, she was also active on the board of the Negro Playwright's Guild and involved with the development of the George Washington Carver Community School.

Bennett faded from the public eye during the late-1940s but she remained close to the hub of busy Harlem in New York and her fellow writers. She began working for the Consumers Union during the later years of her life. Her retirement occurred in 1968 and moved with her husband, Crosscup, to Kutztown, Pennsylvania, where they opened an antique shop.

Her husband died in 1980, due to heart failure, and Bennett died on May 30, 1981, at the Reading Hospital in Reading, Pennsylvania.


Short stories[edit]

  • 1926 – "Wedding Day", Fire!!
  • 1927 – "Tokens", Ebony & Topaz


  • 1926–28 — "The Ebony Flute" (column), Opportunity
  • 1924 — "The Future of the Negro in Art", Howard University Record (December)
  • 1925 — "Negros: Inherent Craftsmen", Howard University Record (February)
  • 1928 — "The American Negro Paints", Southern Workman (January)
  • 1934 — "I go to Camp", Opportunity (August)
  • 1934 — "Never the Twain Must Meet", Opportunity (March)
  • 1935 — "Rounding the Century: Story of the Colored Orphan Asylum & Association for the Benefit of Colored Children in New York City", Crisis (June)
  • 1937 — "The Harlem Artists Guild", Art Front (May)


  • 1923 — "Heritage", Opportunity (December)december
  • 1923 — "Nocturne", Crisis (November)
  • 1924 — "To Usward", Crisis (May) and Opportunity (May)
  • 1924 — "Wind", Opportunity (November)
  • 1925 — "On a Birthday", Opportunity (September)
  • 1925 — "Pugation", Opportunity (February)
  • 1926 — "Song", Palms (October)
  • 1926 — "Street Lamps in Early Spring", Opportunity (May)
  • 1926 — "Lines Written At the Grave of Alexandre Dumas", Opportunity (July)
  • 1926 — "Moon Tonight", Gypsy (October)
  • 1926 — "Hatred", Opportunity (June)
  • 1926 — "Dear Things", Palms (October)
  • 1926 — "Dirge", Palms (October)

Her work is featured in numerous anthologies of the period, including the following:


  1. ^ Sandra Y. Govan, "Gwendolyn Bennett's Life and Career", Modern American Poetry.
  2. ^ "Gwendolyn Bennett", DC Writers.
  3. ^ Govan, Sandra. "Gwendolyn Bennett's Life and Career". Modern American Poetry. Retrieved May 30, 2017. </r
  4. ^ "Gwendolyn B.Bennett", Margaret Busby, Daughters of Africa, Cape, 1992, p. 215.
  5. ^ "Gwendolyn Bennett", Encyclopædia Britannica.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cullen, Countee, ed. Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Negro Poets. New York: Harper, 1927.
  • Chaney, Michael A. "Traveling Harlem's Europe: Vagabondage from Slave Narratives to Gwendolyn Bennett's 'Wedding Day' and Claude McKay's Banjo." Journal of Narrative Theory, 32:1 (2002): 52–76.
  • Johnson, Charles S., ed. Ebony and Topaz: A Collectanea. New York: Opportunity, National Urban League, 1927. 140–150.
  • Govan, Sandra Y. "A Blend of Voices: Composite Narrative Strategies in Biographical Reconstruction." In Dolan Hubbard, ed., Recovered Writers/Recovered Texts. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. 1997. 90–104.
  • Govan, Sandra Y. "After the Renaissance: Gwendolyn Bennett and the WPA years." MAWA-Review 3:2 (December 1988): 27–31.
  • Govan, Sandra Y. "Kindred Spirits and Sympathetic Souls: Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Bennett in the Renaissance." In Trotman, C. James, ed. Langston Hughes: The Man, His Art and His Continuing Influence. New York, NY: Garland Press, 1995. 75–85.
  • "Gwendolyn, Bennetta Bennett". Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
  • Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. Black Women in America. New York: Carlson Press, 1993.
  • Hoffman, Lenore. "The Diaries of Gwendolyn Bennett." Women Studies Quarterly 17.3–4 9[1989]:66.
  • Jones, Gwendolyn S. "Gwendolyn Bennett ([1902]–[1981])." In Nelson, Emmanuel S., ed., African American Authors, [1745]-[1945]: A BioBibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. 18–23.
  • Shockley, Ann Allen, Afro-American Women Writers 1746–1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books, 1989. ISBN 0-452-00981-2.

External links[edit]