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Gwendolyn Bennett: Biography

Gwendolyn Bennett was born in Giddings, Texas on July 8, 1902. As a child, she lived on a Native American reservation in Nevada, before moving to Brooklyn with her father. She graduated from Pratt Institute in 1924 (where she had transferred from Columbia University's Teacher College). It was during Bennett's college years that she had her first poem published; "The Heritage" was published in the NAACP magazine The Crisis in late 1923. After graduating from Pratt, Bennett became an art instructor at Howard University. After some time there, she continued her education at Sorbonne and Julian Academy in Paris, France.

Bennett is known for her poems short stories. Most of her works were published between the mid-1920's and late 1930's. Some notable poems include: "Wind", "On a Birthday", "Street Lamps in Early Spring", "Lines Written at the Grave of Alexandre Dumas" and "Moon Tonight". Two short stories, "Wedding Day" and "Tokens", were published in 1926 and 1927, respectively. Bennett was also a writer in nonfiction. Between 1924 and 1937, she had published several pieces of nonfiction work, many of which were about art. Bennett's written works made her a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance; empathizing on Harlem culture, African values and racial pride. 

Bennett was also known for her paintings. Her most notable paintings include river and winter landscapes. Unfortunately, most of her paintings have been lost or destroyed by fires.

Bennett formed a support group in 1923 for young Harlem writers. Many notable writers were in this group, including: Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Eric Walrond, Helene Johnson, Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent, Aaron Douglas, Alta Sawyer Douglas, Rudolph Fisher and Zora Neale Hurston. Bennett formed the group with the hope of helping these young writers aspire to become more experienced scholars through peer support and encouragement. The group disbanded in 1931.

Bennett served as the head of Harlem Community Art Center from 1939 to 1944. She then played a large role in the formation of the George Washington Carver Community School. The school, unfortunately, was shut down by the government for suspicion of communist activities, a charge that had no evidence behind it. An 18 year FBI investigation (from 1941 to 1959) into Bennett on charges of communism warranted no results. The investigation had a negative impact on Bennett, who decided to spend the rest of her life out of the public eye. She and her husband, Richard Crossup, moved to Kutztown, Pennsylvania in 1968, opening an antique shop, Buttonwood Hollow Antiques, in town. Bennett died on May 30, 1981, at the age of 78, surviving her husband by a year.





Gwendolyn Bennett