Gwendolyn B. Bennett was an artist, writer, and journalist during the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a big contributor to Opportunity, which chronicled cultural advancements during that period.
Bennett was born July 8, 1902, in Giddings, Texas, to Joshua Robbin Bennett and Mayme F. (Abernethy) Bennett. She spent her early childhood in Wadsworth, Nevada, on the Paiute Indian Reservation. Her parents taught in the Indian Service for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
She graduated from Columbia and Pratt in 1924 and received a position at Howard University, where she taught design, watercolor and crafts. A scholarship enabling her to study in Paris, France, at the Sorbonne, was awarded to Bennett during December 1924. She then continued her fine arts education at Academic Julian and Ecole du Pantheon in Paris. During her studies in Paris, Bennett worked with a variety of materials, including watercolor, oil, woodcuts, pen and ink, and batik which was the beginning of her career as a graphic artist. However, most of her pieces from this period of her life were destroyed during a fire at her stepmother’s home in 1926.
When Bennett left Paris in 1926, she headed back to New York to become the assistant to the editor for Opportunity. During her time employed at Opportunity, she received the Barnes Foundation fellowship for her work in graphic design and the fine arts. Later during the same year, she returned to Howard University once again to teach fine arts.
Torn between her ambition to work as a graphic artist and her desire to become a proficient writer using the medium of either poetry or prose, Bennett kept the profile of an working arts activist in New York City’s black arts community for decades. However, the five-year period spanning 1923 to 1928 proved to be the most productive for her as a creative writer. It was within this brief span that James Weldon Johnson recognized Bennett as a lyric poet of some power.
Often recognized as one of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Bennet used her column, The Ebony Flute, to link to the Harlem culture and social life. She used it to her advantage to network with other poets and to spread the news of the Renaissance. She would feature other writers’ work and discuss them in her column.
Bennett was also active on the board of the Negro Playwright’s Guild and involved with the development of the George Washington Carver Community School. Bennett faded from the public eye during the late-1940s but she remained close to the hub of busy Harlem in New York and her fellow writers.