Tuesday, June 6, 2017
ANNE SPENCER BANNISTER (1882-1975) poet, teacher, civil rights activist, and gardener, was born Annie Bethel Bannister on February 6, 1882, the only child of Joel Cephus Bannister and Sarah Louise Scales, in Henry County,Virginia.
Her development as a poet began in early childhood where she enjoyed a great amount of freedom and solitude to explore the natural world. During this time she did not attend school because her mother felt that the local schools were unsuitable for her daughter. She read catalogs like Sears and Roebuck and wrote independently in her many moments alone.
Anne was eventually enrolled in the Virginia Theological Seminary, in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1893 at the age of 11, where, despite having a mostly illiterate childhood, she graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1899. After graduation she became a teacher and taught school throughout Virginia until 1901.
Her literary life began at the seminary where she wrote her first poem. She continued to write poetry to record her thoughts and feelings.
In 1919, while working to establish a branch of the NAACP in Lynchburg, Anne met and worked with the poet and activist James Weldon Johnson, who discovered her poetry. Using Johnson's editor, she published her first poem in 1920 in the "Crisis" magazine.
The themes of her poetry were religion, race (though rarely explicit), and the natural world. Although she did not write "protest" poetry, she was obviously well aware of White oppression. Many of her poems convey a romantic concern with the human search for beauty and meaning in a disgusting world. According to "The Vintage Book of African American Poetry"..."Her most rigorous poems engage the reader through piercing images and chiseled, precise language..."
Anne did not publish any volumes of poetry during her lifetime, but she was published extensively during the 20's in the most prestigious periodicals,collections, literary journals, and anthologies. She won national attention for her poetry, and as a result, friendship of some of the most prominent Black writers of that era. Anne resided exclusively in Virginia, where she worked for almost two decades as the librarian of Dunbar High School, but she maintained close friendships with many writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Du Bois included among them.
Anne was poetically active until her death in 1975. She will be remembered as one of the most significant poets of all time.