Thursday, February 20, 2014

BHM2014 - Margaret Danner

Margaret Danner was born on January 12, 1915 to Caleb and Naomi Esse. She came to age in Chicago, during the Great Migration. 

Danner later attended Loyola and Northwestern Universities, where she was taught by Karl Shapiro and Paul Engle. She continued her writing while in Chicago and first became recognized in 1945 when she won second place in the Poetry Workshop of the Midwestern Writers Conference at Northwestern University.  In 1951, while in Chicago, Danner become an editorial assistant for Poetry: the Magazine of Verse. It was this publication that introduced her poem series “Far From Africa” for which she is best known.  These poems won Danner the John Hay Whitney Fellowship on 1951, which was intended to fund a trip to Africa scheduled for that same year.  Danner postponed the trip for personal reasons and in fact did not go to Africa until 1966.  In 1955 Margaret Danner became the first African American to hold the position of Assistant Editor of Poetry: The Magazine of Verse

During her lifetime, Margaret Danner was married twice and had one daughter with her first husband. A number of her later poems were inspired by her grandson, Sterling, which she referenced as “Muffin Poems.” In 1961, Danner became poet-in-residence at Wayne State University in Detroit.  It was during this time that Danner became involved in the Baha'i faith, which would influence her poetry.  From that point many of her poems would refer to that faith.

In 1966, Danner took her long-desired trip to Africa through the John Hay Whitney Fellowship to join prominent African-American cultural figures at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakur, Senegal.  In the late 1960s and 1970s, Danner published her third and fourth volumes of poetry, Iron Lace (1968) and The Down of a Thistle: Selected Poems, Prose Poems, and Songs (1976). Her work continued to draw upon African (as well as Western) art, flora and fauna, relationships with her fellow poets and scenes from urban life. Several of her poems address or discuss her grandson, Sterling Washington, Jr., whom she calls “Muffin,” and who seems to represent an African-American future. Her writing has been called a celebration of black people, their history, as well as their struggles.

Margaret Danner died in Chicago on January 1, 1984.


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