Of the many heralded poets and writers of the fabled Harlem Renaissance, Anne Spencer is among the least known. Her absence from the usual roster of renown may stem from her paucity of poems or her distance from the center of the movement, but not for a lack of elegance and classical style.
That elegance, too, was often framed in brevity, as in her tribute to the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar: “Ah, how poets sing and die! Make one song and Heaven takes it/Have one heart and Beauty breaks it/Chatterton, Shelley, Keats and I—Ah, how poets sing and die!”
A recent reading of Pamela Newkirk’s “Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga,” the Congolese captive caged and put on display in New York City in the early 1900s, renewed an interest in Spencer’s life. Newkirk, a noted journalist, also provides bits and pieces about Spencer’s life and relationship to Benga that is not present in accounts of her literary prowess.