The Brownies' Book
W.E.B. DuBois
William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. A light-skinned African American boy growing up in New England, DuBois enjoyed his childhood with little regard to the "color problem" or his own skin tone until a white classmate refused his visiting card and the "veil" fell. He devoted the rest of his life to education and the exploration of both sides of the racial veil. He earned a bachelor's degree from Fisk University, and a second B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. from Harvard. From there he traveled through Europe and studied extensively in Germany. DuBois taught at Atlanta University and completed The Philadelphia Negro, a sociological study, for the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1903 he published The Souls of Black Folk, which passionately addressed the dual nature of being both African and American, and "The Talented Tenth," an advocation of racial uplift through the education of the very best of the races. In 1909 he became the only African American founder of the NAACP and the editor of its publication, The Crisis. After the collapse of The Brownies' Book, DuBois continued writing, studying, advocating the uplift of African Americans, and urging Pan-Africanism. DuBois' other publications include Black Reconstruction, Dusk of Dawn, Encyclopedia of the Negro, and The World and Africa. He died in Ghana in 1963 at the age of ninety-five, and The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois was published five years later.
Jessie Redmon Fauset
The daughter of a Methodist Episcopal minister, Jessie Fauset was born in New Jersey on April 27, 1882. She won a scholarship to Cornell University and graduated with honors in 1905. She studied at the Sorbonne before earning a master's degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania in 1919. She taught at an all-black secondary school in Washington, D.C., before her literary career flourished. The novelist, poet, critic, and editor is most often associated with the Harlem Renaissance, and her novels include There Is Confusion (1924), Plum Bun (1928), The Chinaberry Tree (1931), and Comedy: American Style (1933). She worked closely with DuBois on The Crisis before joining The Brownies' Book as literary editor.
According to Abby Arthur Johnson, Fauset proved an ambivalent critic: "While on the staff of Crisis, she helped establish a literary climate favourable to black writers of varying persuasions, even to those who would never have come to her for assistance. In her reviews, which appeared regularly in the magazine, she seemed more open than was DuBois….Fauset repeatedly claimed that literature should not overtly serve special interests. She sometimes acted upon other premises, however, and advanced propagandistic work" (145). She seemed to walk the same fine line in her writing: "Fauset wrote about people positioned between two races because she often found herself in that situation. With many of her characters, she knew what it was like to be black in an environment primarily white" (Johnson 150). Fauset died on April 30, 1961.
Augustus Granville Dill
Augustus Dill's relationship with DuBois began at Atlanta University, where Dill studied under DuBois and worked with him on various publications, including The College Bred Negro American (1910), The Negro American Artisan (1912), and Morals and Manners Among Negro Americans (1914). Dill moved on to Harvard University and graduated in 1908. The sociologist succeeded DuBois at Atlanta before moving northward to work with the NAACP. The two men formed DuBois and Dill Publishers, which folded with the collapse of The Brownies' Book, and Dill served as the magazine's business manager. DuBois and Dill also printed a collection of African American biographies, called Unsung Heroes, by Elizabeth Haynes. Dill died on March 8, 1856, at the age of 75.
Langston Hughes
Born in 1902 in Missouri, the legendary "poet laureate of Harlem" is perhaps the most famous writer to emerge from the pages of The Brownies' Book (Johnson-Feelings). He won the election for class poet in elementary school and served as yearbook editor in high school. In 1921, Hughes moved to Mexico to teach English. While there, he wrote an essay, "In a Mexican City," which was published in the April 1921 issue of The Brownies' Book. He also penned a Crisis-worthy poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" before traveling onto Africa and Europe. He published The Weary Blues (1926) even before graduating from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929. A year later, his irst novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature.
Hughes deeply personal writing provides "insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties…and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz" (Academy of American Poets). A prolific writer, Hughes penned a number of children's books in addition to his adult novels, short stories, and poems. These include The First Book of Negroes (1952), The First Book of Rhythms (1954), The First Book of Jazz (1955), The First Book of the West Indies (1956), and The First Book of Africa (1960). The Sweet and Sour Animal Book, Popo and Fifina, and Black Misery were published post-humanously.
Nella Larsen Imes
Born in Chicago in 1891 to parents of mixed race, Nella Larsen attended Fisk University's Normal School, trained as a nurse in New York, and worked as head nurse at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She eventually returned to New York, where she met and, in 1919, married physicist Elmer Imes. Through her husband, Larsen met members of the Harlem arts movement and began to explore her own literary interests. In The Brownies' Book, she published two pieces about Danish games in the "Playtime" column. In 1921, Larsen began working at the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library and practicing her writing. Her well-received first novel, Quicksand, was published in 1928, Passing the following year, and "Sanctuary" in 1930. Two years later she became the first African American woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship and toured Europe. By 1934, however, she was living in obscurity, spending her last thirty years as a nurse in Brooklyn.