Paying homage to some of the women who’s work became the heartbeat of the contemporary female writers that we love today, YA Editor Shaniqua Stallings remembers Audre Lorde, Anne Spencer, Harriett Wilson, and Octavia Butler
Audre Lorde was born in New York City on February 18 1934. The poet, essayist and novelist was born to parents who immigrated from Grenada. Audre attended the National University of Mexico in 1954, Hunter college in 1959 and Columbia in 1961. She worked as a librarian for a time, but in 1968 she got an appointment as lecturer in creative writing at City College in New York. The following year she was made lecturer in the education department at Herbert H. Lehman College.
Audre helped with political organizing of other black feminists and lesbians. In the early 1980’s she helped start Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. Following all of this she was named New York State Poet in 1991. She joined the English department at John Jay College of Criminal Justince in 1970, and in 1980 she returned to Hunter College as professor of English.
Audre’s best known works are her prose writings, Sister Outsider (1984) and Burst of Light (1988), two collections of essays, and Zami: The Cancer Journals (1980), her struggle with breast cancer, the cause of her death. Some of her poetry works are The First Cities (1968), The Black Unicorn (1978), and Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New (1993).
In 1992, Lord finally succumbed to breast cancer. She was living in St. Croix at the time of her death.
Anne Bethel Scales Bannister was born on February 6, 1882 on a farm in Henry County. Her family moved soon after her birth, her parents separating over differences shortly after that. Taking her child Sarah Louise Scales first placed her in foster care, but in 1893 she enrolled Annie in the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, now called Virginia University of Lynchburg.
James Weldon Johns traveled to Lynchburg in 1919 due to his position as a field agent for the NAACP. Her work with the organization brought her into contact with Johnson and during his visit he befriended her and encouraged her to publish her work. It was thanks to Johnson that she received her penname of Anne Spencer. Publications such as The Crisis, a journal founded by the NAACP, and The Lyric, a magazine for traditional poetry served as venues for her published works. In her poem, “White Things” (1923) Annie was said to have ‘explored “whiteness” and how its supremacy is maintained only through the violent destruction of all things colored.’ The Crisis editors that read the poem wanted changes to be made to it, but she refused. Many of Spencer’s poems were published in collections of other great poets, Johnson, Alain Locke and Countee Cullen.
Anne Spencer died on July 7, 1975, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Harriet E. Wilson was born March 15, 1825, in Milford, New Hampshire. She is given the credit for having written the first African American novel published in the United States. Her life, told in her book, Our Nig, disappeared in 1859, shortly after it was published, but Henry Louis Gates, Jr. republished it in 1983. The novel paralleled Wilson’s life in many ways, the female character being abandoned by her white mother, the abandonment by the husband and the son named George. Even though she was writing the novel to help her son he died just months after it was published. After her son’s death Wilson became a popular spiritualist in the Boston area, giving lectures and sometimes worked a medium.
Even though her novel was republished and readers are able to see the parallels she provided between Frado, the female character, and her life not much is known about Wilson’s life.
Harriet E. Wilson died on June 28, 1900. She was buried in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Octavia Butler was born Octavia Estelle Butler on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California. Her name is associated with being a writer, but more specific is that she is an African-American feminist science fiction author. Butler wrote science fiction stories while growing up and began to get published in the 1970s. Her short story, “Speech Sounds” won her the Hugo award in 1983.
The following year she won not only the Hugo award, but the Nebula award as well for “Bloodchild.” Her novels include Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents and Fledgling. Butler attended Pasadena City College.
Octavia Butler died on February 24, 2006 from an accidental fall.