Artists & Writers in Brookland
This is a partial listing of writers and artists who lived in Brookland.
One of the seminal poets in American history, and D.C.’s first Poet Laureate, Sterling Brown lived the majority of his life in Brookland in a home on Kearney Street.
A poet, essayist, and teacher at Howard University, Brown was born in Washington, D.C. in 1901. He was educated at Dunbar High School and received a bachelor’s degree from Williams College where he was Phi Beta Kappa and received a Masters at Harvard University. He taught at Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri and at Fisk University in Nashville before he going on to his great work at Howard University in 1926.
In 1932 his first book, Southern Road, was published. His poetry was influenced by jazz and the blues and, like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and other Black poets of the period, his writing expresses his concerns about race in America. Brown was considered part of the artistic tradition of the Harlem Renaissance although he spent the majority of his life in Washington, DC. What is not acknowledged enough is that the “Harlem” renaissance was firmly seeded in Washington, DC through the work of DC-based authors like Brown, Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Richard Bruce Nugent, and others.
Brown turned to writing essays and focused on his career as a teacher at Howard, where he taught until his retirement in 1969. He finally published his second book of poetry, The Last Ride of Wild Bill, in 1975.
Sterling Brown died in 1989 of Leukemia. He was eulogized in the nation’s papers as having “helped to establish Afro-American literary criticism” and having “taught many of the nation’s black scholars and writers.” His many students included Amiri Baraka, Stokely Carmichael, Paula Giddings, Toni Morrison, psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark and Ossie Davis. Brown is rightly credited with having edited the ‘first comprehensive anthology of African-American writing” and having designed and taught the first course in Afro-American literature.
Brookland lovers should note Brown’s amazing response in 1974 to a column published in the old Washington Star. His letter reveals his profound love for Brookland.
After his death a memorial plaque was placed outside of his house naming it “The Poet’s House.”
Novelist and playwright Jean Kerr lived in the Brookland in the 1930s and studied at Catholic University. She is best known for her plays and collections of essays including the bestseller “Pulling Up The Daisies” and the Broadway success “Mary Mary.” She is also remembered for her acerbic and insightful wit:
“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep.
That’s deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?” Jean Kerr
One of the most difficult things to contend with in a hospital is that
assumption on the part of the staff that because you have lost your gall bladder
you have also lost your mind. Jean Kerr
Marrying a man is like buying something you’ve been admiring for a long
time in a shop window. You may love it when you get it home, but it doesn’t
always go with everything else in the house. Jean Kerr
Life with Mary was like being in a telephone booth with an open umbrella
-no matter which way you turned, you got it in the eye. Jean Kerr
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s
just possible you haven’t grasped the situation. Jean Kerr
If you have formed the habit of checking on every new diet that comes
along, you will find that, mercifully, they all blur together, leaving you
with only one definite piece of information: french-fried potatoes are out. Jean Kerr
Hope is the feeling that the feeling you have
isn’t permanent. Jean Kerr
Walter Kerr taught in the Drama Department of Catholic University, during which time he wrote, directed and adapted plays. He began his career as a critic at Commonweal, before moving to the New York Herald Tribune. When the Tribune ceased publication in 1966, he moved to the New York Times, where he remained for seventeen years until his retirement. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for the body of his work. A spokeswoman for the League of New York Theaters said that “his opening night dispatches, overflowing with vivid reportage and wry wit, are our best accounts of Broadway’s last great era.”
MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS
Best known for her books The Yearling and Cross Creek Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born August 8, 1896, in Washington and grew up in Brookland. At the age of eleven she won her first writing contest for a story published in the Washington Post. Her book about her South Florida home in the is considered an environmental masterpiece. Rawlings also became a civil rights advocate and formed relationships with Indira Gandhi, Mary McLeod Bethune and Zora Neale Hurston. Rawlings died from a cerebral hemorrhage on December 14, 1953. Several of her books were made into movies.
It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway… to step inside the garden gate and close it behind. . . One is now inside… Out of one world, and in the mysterious heart of another… and after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia… Here is that mystic loveliness… Here is home… An old thread, long tangled comes straight again… ~ Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek
Other significant artists and writers who lived in Brookland include Pearl Bailey and Ralph Bunche.
If you want to know more about literary figures who lived in DC, check out the website http://www.dcwriters.org/
It catalogues historic homes of writers in the DC area