Gwendolyn Bennetta Bennett
Biography of Gwendolyn Bennetta Bennett
Gwendolyn B. Bennett (July 8, 1902 – May 30, 1981) was an African-American writer who contributed to Opportunity, which chronicled cultural advancements in Harlem. 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!!.
Gwendolyn Bennetta Bennett was born July 8, 1902 in Giddings, Texas to Joshua Robbin Bennett 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., 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 till 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 drama 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, she took art classes at Columbia University and the Pratt Institute. In her undergraduate studies, Bennett's poem "Heritage" was published in Crisis in November, 1923; in December of the same year, her poem Heritage was included in Opportunity, a magazine published by the National Urban League. She graduated from both schools in 1924 and in June of that year, received a position at Howard University where she taught design, watercolor and crafts.
A scholarship enabling her to study abroad in Paris, at 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. 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. She remained the assistant to the editor at Opportunity and was given the chance to publish articles discussing topics involving literature and the fine arts. She titled her column The Ebony Flute and used it to distribute news about the many creative thinkers that were 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!!
Gwendolyn Bennetta Bennett Poems
I shall hate you Like a dart of singing steel Shot through still air
To A Dark Girl
I love you for your brownness, And the rounded darkness of your breast, I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
I sailed in my dreams to the Land of Night Where you were the dusk-eyed queen, And there in the pallor of moon-veiled light The loveliest things were seen ...
When I am dead, carve this upon my stone: Here lies a woman, fit root for flower and tree, Whose living flesh, now mouldering round the bone,
To A Dark Girl
I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.
Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.