Joanne M Braxton

(b. 1950)

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(b. 1950), poet and critic.

A distinguished writer and teacher, Joanne M. Braxton has published important poetry and criticism while maintaining the significance of historical and communal ties.

Joanne Margaret Braxton was born in Lakeland, Maryland, on 25 May 1950 to Mary Ellen Weems Braxton and Harry McHenry Braxton, Sr. The second of four children, she graduated from Northwestern Senior High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. Braxton found her poetic voice as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College; after graduating, she entered Yale University, where she earned her PhD in American Studies in 1984. Braxton wrote her dissertation on black women's autobiography under the tutelage of scholars Charles Davis and John Blassingame.

Braxton has enjoyed a fruitful publishing career. Sometimes I Think of Maryland (1977), a volume of poetry, reflects the centrality of folkloric and familial traditions; Gwendolyn Brooks hailed it for its economy, courage, and genuine expression of youthful energy. Braxton's critical study, Black Women Writing Autobiography: A Tradition within a Tradition (1989), is a pioneering contribution to African American feminist scholarship, presenting trenchant analyses of historical and contemporary figures such as Harriet A. Jacobs and Maya Angelou. In addition, Braxton is the editor of Wild Women in the Whirlwind: Afra-American Culture and the Contemporary Literary Renaissance (with Andree Nicola McLaughlin, 1990) and The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1993). Braxton has also been a Danforth Fellow, a Roothbert Fellow, a Mellon Fellow, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellow, and a member of the Michigan Society of Fellows.

A devoted teacher as well as writer, Braxton has taught at Yale and the University of Michigan. A member of the English and American Studies departments at the College of William and Mary since 1980, she has held the Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings chair since 1989. A renowned professor, Braxton earned the prestigious “Outstanding Virginia Faculty Award” in 1992. Braxton views herself as a cultural critic and literary historian and encourages students to participate in “reclamation,” unearthing stories that have not been told. As she states in the introduction to Wild Women, “the current flowering of Black women's writing must be viewed as part of a cultural continuum and an evolving consciousness, a consciousness that will continue to evolve and unfold.”

An exemplary scholar and teacher, Braxton has been praised widely and has worked to find her own critical voice and to empower her students so that they might find theirs. Joanne Braxton continues her scholarly and artistic pursuits, researching slave music and preparing more volumes poetry. Her latest volume of poetry, My Magic Pours Secret Libations, was published in 1996.

Edward T. Washington, “Joanne M. Braxton,” in DLB, vol. 41, Afro-American Poets since 1955, eds. Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis, 1985, pp. 42–47.Hilary Holladay, “Joanne Braxton Named Outstanding Professor,” William and Mary Alumni Gazette 60.2 (Sept. 1992): 9.

Keith Clark

Subjects: Literature.

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