The Center for the Humanities

Helene Johnson: After the Harlem Renaissance

Editor: Emily Rosamond Claman
70 pages, softcover, saddle-stitch binding

Recognized as an important young voice during the Harlem Renaissance, poet Helene Johnson was thought to have stopped writing some time after 1935 when she no longer published regularly in little magazines and periodicals. With this chapbook, an original manuscript of never-before-seen poems comes to light. Titled The Boat is Tethered to the Floor, the manuscript was evidently prepared for publication by Johnson herself. Written after her move downtown in the 1960s, these poems evoke themes of desire, friendship and aging, and provide an entirely new perspective on the literature of the era.

Author Biography:

HELENE JOHNSON (1906-1995) was born in Boston, MA. After early success as a poet, she moved to Manhattan in 1927 to live with her cousin, Dorothy West. From 1925 to 1935, Johnson published in the periodicals Messenger, Opportunity, Fire!!, Challenge, Palms, Vanity Fair, Saturday Evening Quill, and Harlem. She was also included in the anthologies The Book of American Negro Poetry (1931), The New Negro (1925), and Caroling Dusk (1927). Largely forgotten, her early work was revived by Verner D. Mitchell in This Waiting For Love: Helene Johnson, Poet of the Harlem Renaissance (2000).

Selected Archives:

  • The Allen Ginsberg Estate, New York, NY
  • Personal Archive (Abigail McGrath)
  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, New York, NY

Images

Photo of Helene Johnson, 1931, signed to cousin Dorothy West. Used with the permission of Abigail McGrath.