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Bennett, Gwendolyn (1902-1981)

 

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Gwendolyn Bennett a poet, author, educator, journalist and graphic artist, was born July 8, 1902 in Giddings, Texas, to Joshua and Maime Bennett.  Her parents worked as teachers in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gwendolyn’s family moved to Washington, D.C. in 1906 when she was four years old. Soon after, Bennett’s mother divorced her father and took custody of six year old Gwendolyn. Joshua eventually kidnapped Gwendolyn and they settled in with her stepmother in Brooklyn, New York.

Bennett attended Brooklyn’s Girls High from 1918 to 1921 where she became the first African American to join the Drama and Literary societies and where she was rewarded first place in a school-wide art contest.  After graduating from high school, Bennett enrolled at Columbia University and Pratt Institute to pursue fine arts.  She graduated in 1924.

Bennett began to write poetry in college and in November 1923, her poem “Nocturne” was published in The Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  The following month another poem, “Heritage” appeared in Opportunity, the magazine of the National Urban League.  In 1924, Bennett became an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at Howard University.  Continuing her education in fine arts, Bennett went to Academic Julian and Ecole de Pantheon in Paris in 1925.

In 1926 Bennett returned to New York to become assistant editor of Opportunity magazine.  There she became active in the Harlem Renaissance and regularly wrote a column called "The Ebony Flute" in Opportunity about literary and fine arts.  Her column reported the various literary activities of Harlem Renaissance artists.  She also wrote short stories such as the “Wedding Day” which first appeared in the  Harlem Renaissance anthology, Fire.

Bennett married Alfred Jackson in 1927.  Financial pressures constantly threatened their marriage.  They lost their home in Florida during the Great Depression and soon afterward Jackson passed away.

From 1937 to 1941, Bennett was a member of the Harlem Artists Guild and directed the Harlem Community Art Center. She was also on the Board of the Negro Playwright’s Guild and contributed to the development of the George Washington Carver Community School in New York.  Bennett remarried to Richard Crosscup and the couple lived in New York. She then worked at as a secretary and later opened an antique shop with her husband.

Bennett passed away in New York on May 30, 1981 due to heart failure.

Sources:
Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Women (Detroit-London: Gale Research Inc. 1992). http://voices.cla.umn.edu/vg/Bios/entries/bennett_gwendolyn.html.http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Bennett__Gwendolyn.html

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University of Washington, Seattle

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