Born Alice Ruth Moore, in New Orleans, of mixed African American, Native American, and European ancestry, Dunbar-Nelson was educated at Straight College (now Dillard University). Her Cornell master’s thesis on the influence of Milton on Wordsworth was cited at the time. A 1998-1902 marriage to poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and a later marriage to civil rights activist Robert J. Nelson are the source of her hyphenated name. She is known not only for her poetry but also for her short stories and posthumously published diary.
Born in Sacramento, California, William Everson was the son of a Norwegian composer. He attended Fresno State College until leaving in 1935 to write poetry. Robinson Jeffers was one of his strongest literary influences at the time. He was a conscientious objector during World War II, working as a forester in Oregon for three years, and soon afterwards joined the San Francisco anarcho-pacifist group centered around poet Kenneth Rexroth. In 1949, Everson converted to Roman Catholicism, wrote “The Making of the Cross,” and the following year he joined the Catholic Worker Movement.
Sesshu Foster grew up in City Terrace, California, and received an MFA from the University of Iowa. He taught English for a number of years at a Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, junior high school and now teaches at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet. His books include City Terrace Field Manuel (1996) and World Ball Notebook (2008), from which these prose poems are taken. In addition to teaching and writing his own poetry, he has coedited a collection of multicultural urban poetry, Invocation L.A. (1989).
Countee Cullen was probably born in Louisville, Kentucky, though Cullen himself later liked to claim New York as his birthplace. In any case, he was at some point informally adopted by the Reverend A. and Carolyn Belle Cullen; prior to that he used the name Countee Porter. The Reverend was not only a minister but also a black activist in Harlem. Cullen himself absorbed the activism but realized his literary inclinations and homosexuality—see the simultaneously racial and sexual transgression of "Tableau"—would take him in different directions.
E.(Edward) E.(Estlin) Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard. When he began publishing in the 1920s, he lived in both New York and Paris, but he eventually spent most of his time in New York. From the outset there were powerfully contradictory impulses in his work. A strong component of sentimentality persisted throughout his career, but it is counterpointed either with blunt sexuality or with defamiliarizing typographic dislocation. He was sardonic about organized religion, but maintained an almost transcendentalizing faith in human beings.
Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, where he spent the first ten years of his life. It was long enough to absorb gospel music and the folk traditions of the South. At that point, he moved to Harlem, where he lived until joining the Air Force, a stint that included a year in the Middle East. All these experiences found a place in his poetry; "Son of Msippi" recalls his years in the South, while "Knees of a Natural Man" evokes the urban world of New York. He had spent some time at City College and at Rutgers, but never completed a degree.
Joy Davidman's first publications appeared while she was still an undergraduate at Hunter College. Poetry began to publish her poems in 1936 and, within a year or two, she had joined the Communist Party. Letter to a Comrade, the only collection of her own poems, was published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1938. She spent the latter half of 1939 in Hollywood as an assistant screenwriter for MGM, an experience that led to her writing a number of film reviews for New Masses in the early 1940s.
Born in Tennessee, the son of an army engineer, Mark Doty has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the M.F.A. Program at Vermont College, the University of Utah, and The University of Houston. He now teaches at Rutgers University. In addition to his poetry, he is the author of a 1981 critical study of James Agee and of Heaven's Coast (1996), a memoir of his partner Wally Roberts's death from AIDS. Frightened by his emerging sexual identity, Doty married hastily at age eighteen but was divorced after graduating from Drake University in Iowa.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and in the surrounding area, James Dickey was first a public figure as a high school football star. He did not decide to be a writer until after service in the Air Force in World War II and then enrollment at Vanderbilt University. Even then, he took up other occupations as well. He helped train pilots in the Korean War and worked as an advertising executive for Coca-Cola. Both in his poetry and in his widely successful novel, Deliverance (1970), he was fascinated by violent, definitive tests of selfhood.
Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, a town near the city of Paterson, Williams made the city his home for most of his life. He would mix cosmopolitan experience with a commitment to local American life and would maintain a remarkable dual career. From his medical practice, Williams would draw characters who appeared in his fiction and poetry; he would also remain deeply committed to their lives, to the struggles they underwent and to their sustaining humor.