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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Angelina Weld Grimké (1880 -1958), African-American poet, writer and teacher

b. February 27, 1880
d. June 10, 1958

Angelina Weld Grimke was a lesbian African American poet, writer, critic, biographer, and teacher. She was an important forerunner of the Harlem Renaissance.

Angelina, born in Boston, Massachusetts, was the only child of Archibald Grimké and Sarah Stanley. Her family, within the three preceding generations, included slaveholders and slaves, free black people and white abolitionists. Her parents named her after her great aunt Angelina Emily Weld Grimké, the noted white abolitionist and women's rights advocate.

 Her father, Archibald Grimké, was the son of a white man and a black slave. He graduated Harvard Law School and became a prominent lawyer, diplomat, author, editor, publisher and vice president of the NAACP.

Her mother's middle class white family opposed the marriage of Angelina's parents on racial grounds. When Grimké was three years old, her mother left her father, taking her daughter with her. After four years she returned Angelina to her father and the child never saw her mother again. Angelina thus was raised by her father and some of his relatives.

Angelina was able to attend one of the finest schools in Massachusetts, the Carleton Academy in Ashburnham. After high school, she went to the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, and graduated in 1902 with a Physical Education degree.

After graduating Angelina Grimké moved to Washington D.C. with her father and began teaching English. She taught first at Armstrong Manual Training school and then, from 1916, at Dunbar High School where some of the other writers of the Harlem Renaissance also worked. During this time, she spent summers as a student at Harvard. She finally retired from teaching in 1926.

Angelina began writing while still quite young, and her first published poetry preceded the Harlem Renaissance by thirty years. However, her best known and most mature work was written and published throughout the 1920's while she lived in Washington D.C.

 The variety in form and focus of Angelina Grimké's work is notable. She wrote 173 poems of which only 31 were published. Among them were love poems, elegies, poems concerned with racial injustice and black pride, nature poems and poems with the universal themes of life and death. Three of the best examples of her poetic sensibility are The Eyes of My Regret, At April, and Trees.

Her poetry reveals Angelina's romantic love toward women. The majority of her poems are love poems to women or poems about grief and loss. Some deal with racial concerns, but the bulk of her poems are about other women, and were unlikely to be published for this reason. Only about a third of her poetry has been published to date.

Angelina's journal and letters clearly reveal her lesbian tendencies from teenage years. At sixteen, she wrote to Mamie Burrill:

"I know you are too young now to become my wife, but I hope, darling, that in a few years you will come to me and be my love, my wife! How my brain whirls how my pulse leaps with joy and madness when I think of these two words, 'my wife.'"
But, despite Angelina's great passion, she kept her desires closeted throughout her life, trying to live up to her father's idea of morality. Her writing shows the effect self-denial had upon her, revealing her sorrow over her inability to find the female companionship that she so deeply desired.
In addition to poetry, Angelina Grimké wrote short stories, essays and plays. Her best known work is Rachel, a three-act drama that was published in 1920.

When considering the sizable body of work Angelina Grimké produced, it is instructive to note that very little of her work was published. The times were not friendly to a person such as Angelina. Not only was it difficult for an African American woman to be published, but the fact that she was an African American lesbian woman at a time when such sexuality was not spoken of or in any way acceptable made it that much more difficult with regard to publication.

In 1930, after her father died, Angelina Grimké moved to New York and published nothing more. She lived there in seclusion until she died.

Leaves, that whisper, whisper ever,
Listen, listen, pray;
Birds, that twitter, twitter softly,
Do not say me nay;
Winds, that breathe about, upon her,
(Since I do not dare)
Whisper, twitter, breathe unto her
That I find her fair.

Rose whose soul unfolds white petaled
Touch her soul rose-white;
Rose whose thoughts unfold gold petaled
Blossom in her sight;
Rose whose heart unfolds red petaled
Quick her slow heart's stir;
Tell her white, gold, red my love is;
And for her,--for her.

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