Beatrice M. Murphy


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Nikki Giovanni (b. 1943)

Carolyn M. Rodgers (1945—2010)


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(1908–1992), poet, editor, columnist, and reviewer.

Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Beatrice Murphy lived most of her life in Washington, D.C. In 1928 she graduated from Dunbar High School and published her first poem. From 1933 to 1935 she was a columnist and for the next two years an editor at the Washington Tribune. Converting to Catholicism in 1938, she also became book review editor that year for the Afro-American and published her first poetry anthology, Negro Voices. She was also a secretary at Catholic University and part owner of a circulating library and stenography shop. She became a regular columnist for the Associated Negro Press and contributed poetry and reviews to numerous serials and collections. In the 1940s and 1950s she worked for the Office of Price Administration and then the Veterans Administration. In 1954 she was suspended without pay from her job as procurement clerk for supposedly having joined a subversive organization. She disproved the allegations and was reinstated four months later. She reported great bitterness over the incident but succeeded in recovering her fundamental optimism.

Her most important accomplishment in the 1960s was founding the Negro Bibliographic and Research Center and editing its journal, Bibliographic Survey: The Negro in Print (1965–1972). Active in charities and clubs, she continued her publishing career with a coauthored book of poems and an edited poetry anthology. She died of heart disease.

Murphy's major work of poetry, Love Is a Terrible Thing(1945), dramatizes the stages of love. Many of the poems are conventional in approach, but Murphy has some flair for vivid metaphor and asserts her freedom from her earlier stricter forms. Some of her strongest poems express desire, anger, or bitterness. Many of the later poems in the collection both vindicate youthful candor and lament its vulnerability. One of the most vivid extended images is of a scrapyard (“Salvage”), and one of the most poignant poems is “The Prostitute,” in which the speaker welcomes Death into her bed for the price of peace. Murphy's later poems in The Rocks Cry Out (1969), while opposing the younger generation's violence, resemble the 1960s’ “poetry-as-statement,” as she called it, but show less vigor of imagery than her youthful poems.

As an editor of poetry anthologies, Murphy sought above all to give voice to young unknown writers. Negro Voices (1938) and Ebony Rhythm (1948) are dominated by college students and working amateurs. Perhaps as the result of Nikki Giovanni's exasperation (expressed in a 1969 Negro Digest review) with her conservatism in The Rocks Cry Out, she included several of Giovanni's and Carolyn M. Rodgers's poems in her last anthology, New Negro Voices (1970), and showed respect for the new militancy and black pride (though once again omitting poems with foul language). Her prefaces, essays, and reviews frequently acknowledge the difficulty African Americans have getting published in the white publishing industry, criticize white liberal hypocrisy, and encourage African American education.

Although Murphy wrote some creditable poems on a variety of compelling subjects, her importance may have been more as publicist and midwife to others’ work.


Subjects: Literature.

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