Sterling Allen Brown

born on 1/5/1901 in Washington, DC, MD, United States

died on 13/1/1989 in Washington, DC, MD, United States

Sterling Allen Brown

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Sterling Allen Brown (May 1, 1901 January 13, 1989) was an African-American professor, author of works on folklore, poet and literary critic. He was interested chiefly in black culture of the Southern United States.

Early life

Richard was born on the campus of Howard University in Washington D.C.. His early childhood was spent on a farm on Whiskey Bottom Road in Howard County, Maryland.[1] His father, Sterling N. Brown, a former slave, was a prominent minister and professor at Howard University Divinity School. His mother Grace Adelaide Brown taught in D.C. public schools for over fifty years. Brown was educated at Dunbar High School and graduated as the top student. He received a scholarship to attend Williams College. Graduating from Williams Phi Beta Kappa in 1922, he continued his studies at Harvard University, receiving an MA a year later.

The same year, he became an English teacher at Virginia Theological Seminary and College in Lynchburg, Virginia, a position he would hold for the next three years. In 1927 he married Daisy Turnbull. They adopted two children.

Academic career

Brown began his teaching career with positions at several universities, including Lincoln University and Fisk University, before returning to Howard in 1929. He was a professor there for forty years. He taught and wrote about African-American literature and folklore. He was a pioneer in the appreciation of this genre.

Brown was known for introducing his students to concepts then popular in jazz, which along with blues, spirituals and other forms of black music formed an integral component of his poetry.

In addition to his career at Howard University, Brown served as a visiting professor at Vassar College, New York University (NYU), Atlanta University, and Yale University.

Some of his notable students include Toni Morrison, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sowell, Ossie Davis, and Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones).

In 1969 Brown retired from his faculty position at Howard and turned full time to poetry

Literary career

In 1932 Brown published his first book of poetry Southern Road. It was a collection of poetry with rural themes and treated the simple lives of poor, black, country folk with poignancy and dignity. It also used authentic dialect and structures. Despite the success of this book, he struggled to find a publisher for the followup, No Hiding Place.

His poetic work was influenced in content, form and cadence by African-American music, including work songs, blues and jazz. Like that of Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and other black writers of the period, his work often dealt with race and class in the United States. He was deeply interested in a folk-based culture, which he considered most authentic. Brown is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance artistic tradition, although he spent the majority of his life in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C..


  • "Harvard has ruined more niggers than bad liquor."
    • Brown's warning to Thomas Sowell, as quoted in Sowell's A Personal Odyssey (2000, p. 117).


In 1979, the District of Columbia declared May 1, his birthday, Sterling A. Brown Day.[2]

His Collected Poems won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in the early 1980s for the best book of poetry published that year.[3]

In 1984 the District of Columbia named him its first poet laureate, a position he held until his death from leukemia at the age of 88.[3]

The Friends of Libraries USA in 1997 named Founders Hall at Howard University a Literary Landmark, the first so designated in Washington, DC.[2]


  • Southern Road, Harcourt, Brace and company, 1932 (original poetry)
  • Negro Poetry (literary criticism)
  • 'The Negro in American Fiction,' Bronze booklet - no. 6 (1937), published by The Associates in Negro Folk Education (Washington, D.C.)
  • Negro poetry and drama: and the Negro in American fiction, Atheneum, 1972 (criticism)
  • The Negro Caravan, 1941, co-editor with Arthur P. Davis and Ulysses Lee (anthology of African-American literature)
  • The Last Ride of Wild Bill (poetry)
  • (1996) Michael S. Harper The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, Northwestern University Press. (1st edition 1980)
  • The Poetry of Sterling Brown, recorded 1946-1973, released on Smithsonian Folkways, 1995
  • (1996) Mark A. Sanders A son's return: selected essays of Sterling A. Brown, UPNE.


  1. Ellen Conroy Kennedy (1998). "Looking for Sterling Brown's Howard County": 870881.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "A Literary Tribute to Sterling A. Brown", Howard University, Imogene Zachery, accessed 15 Apr 2008
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sterling A. Brown, The Literacy Encyclopedia, accessed 15 Apr 2008

External links

  • A Literary Tribute to Sterling A. Brown
  • Sterling A. Brown, The Literacy Encyclopedia
  • Sterling A. Brown at Modern America Poetry
  • Sterling A. Brown at The Academy of American Poets
  • Sterling Brown's letter on Brookland at Brookland Area Writers & Artists
  • Sterling Allen Brown: Writer, Folklorist, Educator
  • Sterling Nelson Brown's autobiography, My Own Life Story
  • Sterling Brown Discography at Smithsonian Folkways
This page was last modified 16.08.2012 03:21:01

This article uses material from the article Sterling Allen Brown from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.