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Poet Anne Spencer (February 6, 1882-July 27, 1975) was born Annie Bethel Bannister on a plantation in Henry County, Virginia. She was the child of former slaves. In 1886, her mother left her father, and she and young Anne moved to West Virginia. Anne spent most of her childhood and adolescent years in Bramwell in the foster care of Mr. and Mrs. William Dixie, a prominent black couple. In Bramwell, she acquired a deep appreciation for nature and established lifelong and endearing relationships. The surrounding countryside nourished her creativity and influenced her writing.

Anne was educated at home until 1893, when she enrolled in the Virginia Seminary and Normal School in Lynchburg, Virginia, graduating at the top of her class in 1899. From the time of her enrollment until she graduated, Spencer spent summers and holidays in Bramwell. Between 1899 and 1901, she taught school in the McDowell County coal towns of Maybeury and Elkhorn, before moving permanently to Lynchburg. In 1901, she married former classmate Edward Alexander Spencer.

During the Harlem Renaissance, Anne Spencer’s writing was discovered by the novelist James Weldon Johnson, who in 1920 was responsible for the publication of her poem, ‘‘Before the Feast at Shushan,’’ in The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Her poetry was applauded by critics including H. L. Mencken, and her friends included W.E.B Du Bois and Langston Hughes. Spencer’s poetry was published in numerous anthologies and periodicals, including the first edition of the prestigious Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. In 2000, two of her poems were included in the Library of America’s anthology of 20th Century American poetry.

Anne Spencer worked as a high school librarian from 1924 to 1946, and continued to write until just before her death. Her last poem was titled simply ‘‘1975.’’ Her Lynchburg home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

This Article was written by Brucella Wiggins Jordan

Last Revised on June 21, 2016

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Greene, J. Lee. Time's Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer's Life and Poetry. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.

Cite This Article

Jordan, Brucella Wiggins "Anne Spencer." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 21 June 2016. Web. 21 July 2024.


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