Biography of Helene Johnson
Helen Johnson, who was better known as Helene Johnson (July 7, 1906 – July 6, 1995) was an African American poet during the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a cousin of author Dorothy West.
She spent her early years at her grandfather’s house in Boston. The rest of her formative years were spent in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Johnson's literary career began when she won first prize in a short story competition sponsored by the Boston Chronicle. She also received an honorable mention in a poetry contest organized by Opportunity, the journal of the National Urban League that was one of the leading showcase for the talents of African-American artists.
She reached the height of her popularity in 1927 when her poem "Bottled", a work with unconventional rhythms and innovative slang, was published in the May issue of Vanity Fair.
She and Dorothy West moved to Harlem in the 1920s. She attended Columbia University, but did not graduate. Both were a part of the Harlem Renaissance and became friends with such artists as Zora Neale Hurston.
In 1935, Johnson’s last published poems appeared in Challenge: A Literary Quarterly.
She married William Hubbel soon after, and had one child, Abigail.
She spent many years composing poems just for herself, continuing to write a poem a day for the rest of her life, though she stopped publishing after 1937. She died in Manhattan at the age of 89.
Helene Johnson Poems
Ah my race
Ah my race, Hungry race, Throbbing and young-
He catches dust o' dreams to carry in his sack, The dust a falling star leaves shining in its track, He walks the milky-way, then down the dark-staired skies, His tinkling footsteps hush the world with lullabies.
He catches dust o' dreams to carry in his sack,
The dust a falling star leaves shining in its track,
He walks the milky-way, then down the dark-staired skies,
His tinkling footsteps hush the world with lullabies.
And when he reaches you, his fragrant gentle hands
Fill deep your drowsy eyes with fairy golden sands.