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Aphrodite’s Daughters by Maureen Honey

Posted by admin on April 2, 2017

This new study from Rutgers University Press provides the longest and most informative publication to date about Angelina Weld Grimké, one of three Harlem Renaissance poets discussed by Maureen Honey. Here is the summary from the publisher’s website:

The Harlem Renaissance was a watershed moment for racial uplift, poetic innovation, sexual liberation, and female empowerment. Aphrodite’s Daughters introduces us to three amazing women who were at the forefront of all these developments, poetic iconoclasts who pioneered new and candidly erotic forms of female self-expression.

Maureen Honey paints a vivid portrait of three African American women—Angelina Weld Grimké, Gwendolyn B. Bennett, and Mae V. Cowdery—who came from very different backgrounds but converged in late 1920s Harlem to leave a major mark on the literary landscape. She examines the varied ways these poets articulated female sexual desire, ranging from Grimké’s invocation of a Sapphic goddess figure to Cowdery’s frank depiction of bisexual erotics to Bennett’s risky exploration of the borders between sexual pleasure and pain. Yet Honey also considers how they were united in their commitment to the female body as a primary source of meaning, strength, and transcendence.

The product of extensive archival research, Aphrodite’s Daughters draws from Grimké, Bennett, and Cowdery’s published and unpublished poetry, along with rare periodicals and biographical materials, to immerse us in the lives of these remarkable women and the world in which they lived. It thus not only shows us how their artistic contributions and cultural interventions were vital to their own era, but also demonstrates how the poetic heart of their work keeps on beating.

Although it provides little new information about Angelina’s mother Sarah, it provides the most insightful discussion available about the impact of her abandonment of Angelina and her father Archibald.

The devastating effect on Archibald of Sarah’s abandonment and his inability to fashion another intimate relationship perhaps became for Angelina a model of failed lasting romance and a foundational template of unrequited love. Although Grimke’s poetry reflects failed relationships in her own life, the examples of her father’s romantic disappointments and her mother’s inability to form a stable intimate bond after she left her husband undoubtedly lurked at the back of her mind when as a young adult she contemplated the likelihood of ever establishing a permanent tie with anyone.

Five years ago when Marc Demarest and I first encountered Sarah’s only book, Esoteric Lessons, we contemplated publishing a reprint with scholarly annotations and a biographical introduction. But last year a photographic reprint was published without any new content, and I concluded that it would be best to publish my own edition as an IAPSOP monograph like those already available from John B. Buescher and John Patrick Deveney. I had considered it complete but find much new material about Angelina’s relationship with Sarah in Daughters of Aphrodite, so will revise the ending. The monograph will be a companion volume of sorts to the Typhon Press publication Letters to the Sage, the second volume of which should be completed next year.

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