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October 2014 marks the centenary of the birth of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated young poets. His poignant poems about death, lost innocence, and memory such as “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” (1951) engaged a huge variety of readers and listeners alike—from Beatle John Lennon, who placed his portrait on the iconic cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to modernist poet T.S. Elliot. During World War II, Thomas worked for the BBC writing scripts and broadcasting. His elegant yet powerful delivery put him in high demand for performing in radio plays, reciting poetry, and discussing literary topics.
Photo above: Dylan and Caitlin Thomas's boathouse in Laugharne, Wales. Phograph by Rollie McKenna, September 1957. MSS 103 John Malcolm Brinnin papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library.
While she may be unknown to some, poet, novelist and teacher Margaret Walker (1915-1998) made an outsized impact on American literature. During a period when segregation and discrimination were legal in the American South, Walker wrote poems demanding civil rights and celebrating the language and culture, struggles and triumphs of African Americans. Critics have praised the combination of formal precision and deep conviction found in her poetry. Walker was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father was Methodist minister who would eventually join the faculty of New Orleans University. Her mother taught in the music department at the same institution. After her graduation from Northwestern University in 1934, Walker moved to Chicago, where she worked as a writer for the Works Progress Administration. She became a member of Chicago’s South Side Writers’ Group, and struck up a close friendship with novelist Richard Wright. Walker’s intellectual and literary coming of age took place during this period, and her poetry began to appear in national magazines. A major triumph came in 1942, with the publication of her first collection, For My People. She continued to publish poetry and prose for the next fifty years.