Fenton Johnson, a Chicago Poet


Fenton Johnson
Date: 
Mon, 1888-05-07

*The birth of Fenton Johnson in 1888 is marked on this date. He was an African American poet and writer.

From Chicago, Illinois, he published his first poem at the age of twelve. His plays were performed in a Chicago theater when he was just nineteen. Johnson was educated at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and Columbia University. Johnson was married to Cecilia Rhone. He was a member of the Authors League of America and of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He worked as a journalist for the Eastern Press Association and New York News while continuing to produce published poetry. Upon returning to Chicago, he produced two short-lived periodicals, Champion and Favorite Magazine.

Johnson's early work contains poems written in black dialect and conventional English. His material reveals the influence of traditional spirituals and the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Johnson's poems are a significant bridge between the work turn of the century authors and the writers that would constitute the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 30s. His later poems reveal a determination yet pessimism related to the urban blues of the same period. After 1920 Johnson's literary activities dropped off considerably. Although he continued to write poems into the 1930s, he published very little in his later years.

Johnson's books of poetry include A Little Dreaming 1913, Visions of the Dusk (1915, and Songs of the Soil 1916. He also published a collection of essays, For the Highest Good (McGrath, 1969), and a collection of stories, Tales of Darkest America (Books for Libraries, 1971). The poetry of Fenton Johnson has often been by critics to be characterized by great irony and a kind of hopelessness resulting from an embattled African American experience. Fenton Johnson died on September 1958.

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Person / name: 

Johnson, Fenton