Monday, June 8, 2020

Fenton Johnson

Fenton Johnson (1888―1958) is a Chicago poet, playwright and writer, who was a significant forerunner to the Harlem Renaissance. By the time he was nineteen, several of his plays had been performed at various Chicago theatres. His early aspiration was to become a pastor, but in the end he attended journalism school at Columbia University. He went on to teach at the State University of Louisville, in Kentucky, and to work as a journalist in New York.

The first of his three poetry collections, A Little Dreaming, appeared in 1913. Many of his poems are written in dialect, which was popular at the time, and enabled him to shed light on his observations of American black culture, and on racial issues. His short story collection Tales of Darkest America appeared in 1920, as did his essay collection For the Highest Good. He edited two little magazines: the Champion, and Favorite, and was an early contributor to Poetry magazine.

He never gained the recognition of a major writer; in the 1930s his literary output dwindled to a trickle.


I love the world and all therein:
The panting, darkened souls who seek
A brighter light, a sweeter hope,
From those who drink the bubbling wine
And eat the flesh of tender fowl;
I love the pampered son of wealth,
And pour on him my pity's oil,
This world our God hath made for all, —
The East, the West, the black, the white,
The rich, the poor, the wise, the dumb, —
And even beasts may share the fruit;
No prison wall, but sunlight's glow,
No rods of steel, but arms of love,
For all that creep and walk and strive
And wear upon their countenance
Creation's mark, the kiss of God.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.