B. Bennet

Gwendolyn B. Bennett was born on July 8, 1902, in Giddings, Texas, to Joshua and Maime Bennett, who were both teachers at a Native American reservation. She moved with her family to Washington, DC, in 1906, which was soon followed by her parent’s divorce. Although her mother obtained custody, Bennett’s father kidnapped her, and the two, along with her stepmother, lived in hiding around the East Coast and Pennsylvania. They eventually moved to New York, where Bennett 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 drama and literary societies.

After graduating in 1921, she began taking art classes at Columbia University and the Pratt Institute, both of which she graduated from in 1924. During her undergraduate education, Bennett’s poem “Nocturne” was published in Crisis in November, 1923, and in December of the same year, her poem “Heritage” was included in Opportunity, a magazine published by the National Urban League. In 1925, Bennett continued her fine arts education at Academic Julian and Ecole du Pantheon in Paris. During her studies there, Bennett worked with a variety of mediums, including watercolor, oil, woodcuts, pen and ink, and batik. This was the beginning of her development as a graphic artist. However, most of her pieces from this period were destroyed in 1926 in a fire at her stepmother’s home.

In 1924, Bennett attended a literary dinner at the behest of Charles S. Johnson, the editor of Opportunity. At this event, Bennett socialized with both older and younger members of the African American literary movement, including W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson, Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Bennett joined the group of younger authors, whose goal was to get their works out to a wider audience through more mainstream media sources. Also during this time, Bennett’s poem, “To Usward,” was published in Crisis and Opportunity. This piece uses the image of a ginger jar to represent the unity of the Harlem Renaissance, while celebrating the diversity of the voices present in this movement.

Here are some of her Work:

“Nocturn.” The Book of American Negro Poetry. Ed. James Weldon Johnson. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1922; revised, 1931.  “Heritage.” Opportunity December 1923: 371.

“To Usward.” Crisis May 1924: 19; Opportunity May 1924: 143-144.

“The Future of the Negro in Art.” Howard University Record December 1924: 65-66. “Negroes: Inherent Craftsmen.” Howard University Record 19 (February 1925): 172. “Purgation.” Opportunity February 1925: 56. ,“On a Birthday.” Opportunity September 1925: 276.