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Angelina Weld Grimké

(1880—1958)


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(1880–1958), poet, playwright, essayist, and short fiction writer of the Harlem Renaissance.

Although Angelina Weld Grimké's writings appeared in many leading publications of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925), Countee Cullen's Caroling Dusk (1927), and Charles S. Johnson's Ebony and Topaz (1927), she was not a highly visible member of the literary movement, perhaps because of her retiring personality. The product of a biracial marriage, Grimké grew up in the progressive, aristocratic society of old Boston. Named for her white great-aunt, Angelina Grimké Weld, the famous abolitionist and advocate of women's rights, young Angelina was reared by her devoted but demanding father, Archibald Grimké, the son of Charleston aristocrat Henry Grimké, and his slave, Nancy Weston. Angelina's white mother, Sarah Stanley Grimké, separated from her father in Angelina's early childhood, presumably because of mental and physical illness. Angelina's family background informed the style and content of her literary works. Her father's high standards impelled her to aspire toward the “talented tenth” and to create poetry that was polished and formal. Her heritage of social activism influenced her to use her fiction and drama as propagandist tools. The absence of her mother during her early childhood accounts for her interest in motherhood in much of her drama and fiction.

Angelina's initial writings and publications occurred in verse, with poems appearing in the early 1900s in such periodicals as the Colored American Magazine, the Boston Transcript, and the Pilot. Turning from poetry and fiction to drama, she produced her most prominent work, Rachel, a sentimental social protest play performed in Washington, D.C., in 1916 and then published in 1920. Depicting the effects of lynching on an African American family and the sadness of having children in a racist society, this drama was the first by an African American playwright to be performed by African American actors for a white public. Although some critics praised it for its dramaturgical skills, others faulted its sentimentality, a feature that was less pronounced in Grimké's second and last, but unpublished, drama, “Mara,” which explored similar themes. Considered the least impressive of her works, her short stories also probed the subject of racial injustice, notably in “The Closing Door,” a tale of lynching and infanticide published in The Birth Control Review of 1919. Grimké is best known for her poetry, whose hallmark is its brevity, well-wrought images, and pensive moods. Its themes range from the loss of love, especially that of a woman, to tributes to famous people, to the contemplation of nature, to philosophical and racial issues. Grimké's love sonnets, addressed to women from the perspectives of white male personae, have led feminist scholars to reclaim her as a lesbian poet. Unfortunately, much of her work has been ignored, partly because she was eclipsed, as a woman, by the male literati of the Harlem Renaissance.

Gloria T. Hull, Color, Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, 1987.Helene Keyssar, “Rites and Responsibilities: The Drama of Black American Women,” in Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, ed. Enoch Brater, 1989.Carolivia Herron, ed., Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimké, 1991.—Koritha A. Mitchell, “Antilynching Plays: Angelina Weld Grimke, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and the Evolution of African American Drama in Post-bellum, Pre-Harlem: African American Literature and Culture, 1877–1919, eds., Barbara McCaskill and Caroline Gebhard (2006), pp. 210–210.

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Subjects: Literature — United States History.


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