May 6 Tribute to Sterling Brown

On May 6, our BAWA reading was a tribute to Sterling Brown.  Sterling Brown was born in Washington, DC May 1, 1901.  He graduated from Dunbar High School.  He earned a B.A. from Williams College and a Master’s degree from Harvard University.  He was considered a writer of the Harlem Renaissance (a term he eschewed) and was a contemporary of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and others.

Brown’s seminal work Southern Road was published in 1932.  The poems contained in this volume were grounded in black vernacular speech.  Like Zora Neale Hurston, he was interested in folklore and had a deep interested and desire to write about and to portray the folk-based cultures of southern Negroes of his time.  He used many blues forms and cadences in his writing.  Brown wanted his poetry to get past stereotypes and capture the culture to be an authentic portrayal of the people and culture of the South.

It was hard to find another publisher for his work.  The depression hit publishing houses hard and for African American writers it was that much harder.  So Brown took up teaching at Howard University and eventually became known as the “Dean of American Negro Poets”.  Some of his students included Toni Morrison, Ossie David, LeRoi Jones (known later as Amiri Baraka), Thomas Sowell and Stokley Carmichael.

Sterling Brown lived on Kearney Street, right here in Brookland.  His home became the oasis for scholars and writers.  It was filled with paper, folders, books and record albums.  Brown’s house was frequently visited by jazz musicians, writers, scholars and politicians.  In 1984 Brown became Washington, DC’s first Poet Laureate, a position he held until his death in 1989.

Our reading on May 6th honored the life, legacy and writing of Sterling A. Brown.

Poems Read on May 6

We began our reading with “Slim in Hell” read by Sterling Brown (from the Smithsonian Heritage collection “The Poetry of Sterling Brown).

We also heard Sterling Brown read his work “Strong Men” but we are unable to upload the file here.

Read by Michael Gushue
Sterling Brown’s letter to the Washington Star
    (click here for a link to it online Brown Letter to Star)
“Bitter Fruit of the Tree” from No Hiding Place
“Long Track Blues”  from No Hiding Place

Read by Natassja Linzau

“Strange Legacies” from On Restless River
“Revelations” from On Restless River
“Funeral” from On Restless River
“Glory, Glory” from Washington, D.C.
“April in Coolwell” from Remembrances
“Memories of Salem” from Remembrances
Read by Susan Scheid
“Daisy’s Garden for Daisy – Mrs. Sterling A. Brown” by Betty Parry
an excerpt from “Negro Folk Expression:  Spirituals, Seculars, Ballads and Work Songs,”
by Sterling Brown, published in Modern American Poetry 1953
“To Sallie Walking” from Southern Road
“Mister Samuel and Sam” from Southern Road
“Sister Lou” from Southern Road
“Crossing” from No Hiding Place
“Old Lem” from No Hiding Place