Gwendolyn B. Bennett (July 8, 1902 – May 30, 1981) was an American poet, writer, artist, columnist, and arts administrator associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Giddings, Texas, she spent her early childhood on a Paiute Indian Reservation in Nevada, where her parents were teachers.
When she was four, her parents moved to Washington, D.C. so that her father could study law at Howard University, while her mother trained as a beautician. But all wasn’t well with this upwardly mobile couple; when Gwendolyn was seven, her parents divorced. After her mother gained custody, she was kidnapped by her father, who, along with his new wife, moved her around the northeast for several years. Read More→
Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928 – October 4, 1974), born Anne Gray Harvey, was an American poet. Though she was considered one of the pioneers of modern confessional poetry, her artistry reached far beyond that genre. Born in Newton, MA, she grew up in a middle-class home in Weston, MA.
Her dysfunctional family life set the stage for her lifelong struggles with mental illness. Her father was an alcoholic, and her mother, a housewife with frustrated literary aspirations. Anne’s later writings reflect an upbringing of abuse and hostility. Read More→
Ann Petry (October 12, 1908 – April 28, 1997) was the first African-American woman to produce a book (The Street) whose sales topped one million. Ultimately it would sell a million and a half copies. Born Ann Lane, she was raised in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
Encounters with the pervasive racism that permeated American life in their time were relatively rare — though not entirely absent — in the sheltered life that the Lanes provided for Ann and her siblings. She was a fourth-generation native of Connecticut, and was the daughter of practical, ambitious parents. Her father, Peter Clark Lane, was a pharmacist; her mother, Bertha James Lane, was a podiatrist. For other role models she had an extended family of strong professional women
Though a high school teacher encouraged her to write, Ann went to pharmacy college and received a degree. This was in the early 1930s, when a practical profession was a blessing during the Great Depression. She followed in her father’s footsteps to become a pharmacist in the family drugstore. She was always an avid reader who was particularly taken with Louisa May Alcott’s fictional heroine Jo March as a role model for her writerly aspirations. Read More→
Rebecca West (December 21, 1892 – March 15, 1983), British novelist, journalist, and essayist, was born Cicely Isabel Fairfield in County Kerry, Ireland. Her mother was a pianist; her father, a would-be journalist and ne’er-do-well, abandoned his family when West was eight years old, after which they moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. There she was educated at George Watson’s Ladies College, though contrary to its name, was a secondary school.
At age 14, she survived tuberculosis, and had to end her education at age 16, due to lack of finances. Some time later she studied drama at a London academy. With an unhappy childhood behind her, she assumed the name Rebecca West after a strong-willed woman in Rosmersholm, a play by Ibsen. Read More→
Dodie Smith (May 3, 1896 – November 24, 1990), born Dorothy Gladys Smith in Lancashire, England, was one of the most successful female dramatists of her generation. The British novelist and playwright is even better known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians (later better known as The 101 Dalmatians) and the young adult novel I Capture the Castle.
Dodie Smith came to her love of theatre early, with many of her family members either enthusiasts or amateurs in that realm. She studied at the Academy of Dramatic Art, exploring a short career in acting before becoming a successful playwright and novelist. Read More→