Paul Laurence Dunbar, Hadda Brooks, James Weldon Johnson, and the Modernism of Resistance


1922 stands out in the annals of literature; it was Modernism Year One, according to Ezra Pound. T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Cesar Vallejo published “The Waste Land,” Ulysses, and Trilce, respectively – and yet in that cornucopia, that bonanza of groundbreaking works, that international festival of imaginative letters, most accounts leave out one of the year’s most prophetic, consequential, and influential volumes, a work whose prophecies we have yet to fulfill and whose vision remains compelling as well as, in some ways, contemporary. James Weldon Johnson had history behind him when he chose the definite article “the” for the 1922 collection he edited, The Book of American Negro Poetry. He could call it The Book because, although poetry anthologies had been collected for thousands of years, going back to the garlands of Greek poetry collected in Alexandria, and, before that, gatherings of Chinese poetry, including one attributed to the editorial hand of Confucius, nobody had published an anthology of poetry written by people of African descent in the United States. Though Johnson’s book collected work that many self-described modernists may have considered old-fashioned, in consequential ways it was as modern as any of them. Read more of this post