Sterling Brown Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born into an educated, middle-class African American family, Sterling Allen Brown was the last of six children and the only son of Adelaide Allen Brown and the Reverend Sterling Nelson Brown. His father had taught in the School of Religion at Howard University since 1892, and the year Brown was born, his father also became the pastor of Lincoln Temple Congregational Church. The person who encouraged Brown’s literary career and admiration for the cultural heritage of African Americans, however, was his mother, who had been born and reared in Tennessee and graduated from Fisk University. Brown also grew up listening to tales of his father’s childhood in Tennessee, as well as to accounts of his father’s friendships with noted leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Blanche K. Bruce, and Booker T. Washington.

Brown attended public schools in Washington, D.C., and graduated from the well-known Dunbar High School, noted for its distinguished teachers and alumni; among the latter were many of the nation’s outstanding black professionals. Brown’s teachers at Dunbar included literary artists such as Angelina Weld Grimké and Jessie Redmon Fauset. Moreover, Brown grew up on the campus of Howard University, where there were many outstanding African American scholars, such as historian Kelly Miller and critic and philosopher Alain Locke.

Brown received his A.B. in 1922 from Williams College (Phi Beta Kappa) and his M.A. in 1923 from Harvard University. Although he pursued further graduate study in English at Harvard, he never worked toward a doctorate degree; however, he eventually received honorary doctorates from Howard University, the University of Massachusetts, Northwestern, Williams College, Boston University, Brown, Lewis and Clark College, Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), and the University of Pennsylvania. In September, 1927, he was married to Daisy Turnbull, who shared with him an enthusiasm for people, a sense of humor, and a rejection of pretentious behavior; she was also one of her husband’s sharpest critics. She inspired Brown’s poems “Long...

(The entire section is 850 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

At a time when critics were celebrating the urban, educated “New Negro,” Sterling Allen Brown had the courage to publish Southern Road, a collection of poetry written in dialect that glorifies the rural southern African American. Perhaps it was Brown’s own genteel upbringing that gave him the psychological distance to explore his parents’ experiences growing up in Tennessee, from which he created a unified body of work and structure of meaning in African American poetry.

Adelaide Allen Brown and the Reverend Sterling Nelson Brown, pastor of Lincoln Temple Congregational Church, were middle-class, well-educated African Americans. Sterling Brown was the last of their six children and their only son. The Reverend Brown had taught in the School of Religion at Howard University since 1892, and he often spoke of friendships with such black intellectual leaders as Frederick Douglass, Blanche K. Bruce, and Booker T. Washington. He also told his children stories of his childhood in Tennessee, which nurtured in his son an appreciation for rural African American culture. Adelaide Allen Brown, a graduate of Fisk University, encouraged her son’s admiration for African American literature and his aspirations as a writer.

After he received his bachelor’s degree in 1922 from William College and his master’s degree in 1923 from Harvard University, Brown taught at Virginia Seminary and College, Lincoln University in Missouri, and Fisk University. In 1929 he began teaching at Howard University, where he remained until retiring in 1969.

Following the publication of his 1931 study of African American poetry, Outline for the Study of the Poetry of American Negroes, and the 1932 volume of his own poems, Southern Road, Brown continued scholarly work on African American fiction and drama with two volumes in 1937: The...

(The entire section is 768 words.)