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‘Minor Notes’: Recognizing The Unsung Black Poets Of The 19th And 20th Centuries

Cover of “Minor Notes, Volume 1”

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Released during National Poetry Month, Minor Notes, Volume 1 is an anthology series shedding light on the neglected literary scene featuring overlooked Black poets from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Professors Joshua Bennett and Jesse McCarthy were astonished by how many brilliant Black poets were understudied or completely ignored, even by scholars of Black poetry. Thus, Minor Notes became a project between Bennett and McCarthy that focused on recovering and curating archival works from these gifted poets. 

The Penguin Classic, which features a foreword from former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, intends to bridge the interest of scholars with the expanding general audience who reads, writes, and shares poetry from the era. Minor Notes illustrates that the work of contemporary Black poets is best grasped through the perspective of an enduring tradition of the poet “as witness, as prophetic voice, as communal bard, and as scholar of the everyday and the miraculous.” 

The first volume features the work of George Moses Horton, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Henrietta Cordelia Ray, David Wadsworth Cannon Jr., Anne Spencer, Fenton Johnson, and Angelina Weld Grimké.

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Top: George Moses Horton, Anne Bethel Spencer, David Wadsworth Cannon Jr.; Bottom: Fenton Johnson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Angelina Weld Grimké

George Moses Horton (1798-1884) was a Black poet from North Carolina who studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was enslaved until the Emancipation Proclamation reached his state. Horton is the first Black author to be published after the U.S. gained independence. His poetry reflects on love, faith, slavery, and the joys of home. 

Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966) was a significant figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and one of the earliest Black women playwrights. Johnson wrote plays and four collections of poetry in her lifetime. In 1965, she received an honorary doctorate in literature from Atlanta University. 

Fenton Johnson (1888-1958) was a Chicago-based poet, essayist, short story author, editor, and editor. He was recognized for early prose poetry, and his work is often found in anthologies of 20th-century poetry. 

Anne Bethel Spencer (1882-1975) was an American poet, teacher, civil rights activist, librarian, and gardener from Virginia. She was a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, despite living in Virginia––far from the heart of the movement in New York. Her poetry engages themes of religion, race, and nature.

David Wadsworth Cannon Jr. (1910-1938) was a poet, musician, and gifted scholar. His mother posthumously published his poetry collection, Black Labor Chant, in 1939. It features songs, meditations, and protest poems.

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Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958) was a Black journalist, teacher, playwright, and poet. She became one of the first Black women to have a play performed publicly. Her themes often related to topics such as lynching and the injustices of living as a Black person in America.

Purchase a copy of Minor Notes: Volume 1 via Amazon or at your local bookstore.

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Ayanna Nicole

Hi! I’m Ayanna, a writer and artist. Although I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte with two degrees in art and psychology, I’ve had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. By following my dreams and utilizing my creativity, I designed Jaro Magazine with the ultimate intention of bringing more positive stories in the black community to the forefront, while also highlighting our versatile and vibrant culture through Jaro’s four modes: film, books, art, and music. I also manage a book hub, which you can find on Instagram @bloomingliterature.

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