Curator’s Picks: American Women Poets

The following is an article from the March/April 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, in celebration of both Women’s History Month (March) and National Poetry Month (April). The issue can be downloaded in its entirety here.

American history specialist Rosemary Fry Plakas highlights several women poets whose works are represented in the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Photo by Shawn Miller1. Anne Dudley Bradstreet

British-born Anne Bradstreet (1613-1672) was the first woman poet to be published in colonial America. Her poems were first published in London in 1650, followed by an expanded edition published posthumously in Boston in 1678. “Both in her breadth of subjects–home, family, nature, history, philosophy and religion–and in her sensitivity to prejudices against women’s writings, Bradstreet is a worthy pathfinder for the women who have followed her.”

“The Tenth Muse lately Sprung up in America,” London, 1650

2. Gwendolyn BrooksPhoto by Shawn Miller

In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) became the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. “In her prize- winning work ‘Annie Allen,’ Brooks provides a poignant portrait of a young black girl in Chicago as a daughter, wife and mother.” After many productive years of writing and teaching, Brooks became the first African American woman to serve as the Library’s Consultant in Poetry, 1985-1986.

“Annie Allen,” New York, 1949

Photo by Shawn Miller3. Mercy Otis Warren

Poet and dramatist Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) drew on her literary talents, democratic convictions and friendships with patriot leaders to produce her three-volume commentary on the American Revolution. “This singed title page of Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy shows how close it came to the flames of the Christmas Eve 1851 fire that destroyed nearly two thirds of the books Jefferson had sold to Congress in 1815.”

“History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution,” Boston, 1805

4. Emily DickinsonPhoto by Shawn Miller

Emily Dickinson’s (1830- 1886) beloved poem “Success”– one of the few published during her lifetime–was submitted without her permission by childhood friend and fellow poet Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885). “Jackson urged Dickinson relentlessly to publish her poems and wished to be her literary executor, but alas, Jackson died the year before Dickinson.”

[George Parsons Lathrop] editor, “A Masque of Poets,” No Name Series [v. 13] Boston, 1878

Photo by Shawn Miller5. Phillis Wheatley

African-born poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was a slave educated by her Boston owner’s wife, who encouraged her to publish her poems. This collected work was published by the Countess of Huntingdon in London, where Wheatley had been welcomed by Benjamin Franklin and abolitionists Grenville Sharpe and the Earl of Dartmouth. “Her portrait was probably drawn by the African American artist Scipio Moorhead, whose creative talents are praised in one of Wheatley’s poems.”

“Poems on Various Subjects: Religious and Moral,” London, 1773

*All images | Rare Book and Special Collections Division

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