Friday, September 28, 2012

James Campbell: popular poet in late 1880s

James Edwin Campbell
It is the birthday of black poet James Edwin Campbell (1867), whose best remembered poems are in the dialect of his subjects and vernacular of the 1880s and 1890s. He wrote for daily newspapers in Chicago, particularly the Times-Herald, and was widely celebrated at the turn of the century.

His best known work is Echoes from the Cabin and Elsewhere (1895), a collection of his poetry that critics say is one of the finest 19th century collections of dialect poems. Echoes mixes folk wisdom and realism with authentic, rhythmic dialect. Campbell also published Driftings and Gleanings (1887), a collection of standard English poems and essays.

James Weldon Johnson selected Campbell's work to be included in the collection he edited, The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922).

Little is known about Campbell's early life other than the fact that he was born in Pomeroy, Ohio. He died there of pneumonia in 1896, at the age of 28. He was a teacher in Ohio and then served as principal of Langston School in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and as the first president of West Virginia Colored Institute (now West Virginia State University).

Some scholars suggest that Campbell's work might have served as a model for the poems of his contemporary, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Campbell had been publishing his poetry for several years before Dunbar came to public notice.

Campbell's work appeared in Four O'Clock Magazine, a popular monthly periodical devoted to original writing. It was published five years before it merged into The Philharmonic, a magazine devoted to the modern arts.

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