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Frank Marshall Davis

poet and newspaper editor

Frank Marshall Davis

Frank Marshall Davis was born in Arkansas City, Kansas, on December 31, 1905. When he was seventeen he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to attend Friends University; he later transferred to the School of Journalism at Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University).

Davis began writing poems as the result of a college assignment. In 1927, he moved to Chicago, where he wrote articles and short stories for the Chicago Evening Bulletin, the Chicago Whip, the Chicago Star, and other papers and magazines. In 1930, he moved to Atlanta to become an editor of the Atlanta Daily World, a semi-weekly paper. Under his leadership the Daily World soon became the first successful daily black newspaper in America.

Davis continued writing and publishing poems, and his first book, Black Man's Verse, was published by Norman Forge's Black Cat Press in 1935. Bringing together Davis' interest in jazz and free verse with a condemnation of racial oppression, the book was a critical success. One section of the book, "Ebony under Granite," chronicles the lives of various black people buried in a cemetery. His second book, I Am the American Negro, was published in 1937, also by Black Cat Press. The title poem in this book is a "docudrama" in free verse and prose that attacks "Jim Crow" laws.

Between 1935 and 1947, Davis was Executive Director for the Associated Negro Press in Chicago. He also started a photography club, worked for various political parties, and participated in the League of American Writers.

47th Street, which chronicles the varied life on Chicago's South Side, was published in 1948. Unlike his earlier works, which focused exclusively on black life, 47th Street presents a "rainbow race" of people, united more by class than color.

In 1948, a vacation to Honolulu, Hawaii, became a permanent move. In Hawaii, Davis raised five children, operated a small wholesale paper business, and wrote a weekly column for the Honolulu Record.

Davis' final volume, Awakening, and Other Poems, was published in 1978.

Frank Marshall Davis died on July 26, 1987. Two collections of his writings were published posthumously: Livin' the Blues: Memories of a Black Journalist and Poet (1992) and Black Moods: Collected Poems (2002).


The Academy of American Poets

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This page was last updated on 12/31/2018.