Gabrielle Edgcomb (1920-1997)

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Gabrielle Edgcomb (1920-1996) was the author of two books of poetry: the chapbook Moving Violation (1973) and the book Survival in Prehistory (1979), and one history book (which was later made into a documentary film), From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges (1993). She also edited Man-Made Lakes: A Selected Guide to the Literature (1965) and was co-translator of Marx on Suicide (1999). She was Jewish, born in Germany, and she and her family were able to escape the oppression of the Nazis before Kristallanacht (The Night of the Broken Glass). They came to America as refugees, and much of Edgcomb’s work was inspired by her reflections on her nationality and the war. She first lived in Chicago for college and graduate school, then moved to Washington, D.C. to work as Washington area executive director for the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. Edgcomb then worked as a research consultant for the Smithsonian, then was a research specialist and bibliographer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She also taught at several Washington, D.C. high schools. Info from http://washingtonart.com/beltway/edgcomb.html

Written by Monica Root December 2013

Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb (June 23, 1920-May 22, 1997) published two books of poems, Moving Violations (Some of Us Press, 1973), and Survival in Prehistory (Working Cultures, 1979), as well as the remarkable nonfiction book From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges (Krieger Publishing, 1993), later made into a documentary film. She also edited Man-Made Lakes: A Selected Guide to the Literature (National Academy of Sciences, 1965), and was co-translator of Marx on Suicide (Northwestern University Press, 1999).

Born in Berlin to a Jewish family, she was able to escape to the US in 1936 as the Nazis were coming to power. As she wrote in her personal essay, “And If I Haven’t Died, I’m Still Alive”: “I arrived in New York in 1936, like most settlers, on a boat. Unlike most, I crossed the ocean not in chains, not in steerage, but second class on H.M.S. Beregaria…Mother and I were not ‘wretched refuse from the teeming shore,’ but, nevertheless, ‘yearning to breathe free,’ or, as it turned out, to breathe at all. We were refugees, not immigrants, as we learned, a subtle but potent class distinction then.”

She studied at the University of Chicago (earning an undergraduate and masters degree), married and divorced twice, and had three children. Edgcomb moved to DC in the early 1950s, and remained here until her death. Among her jobs, she worked as the Washington-Area Executive Director for the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, as a research consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, and a research specialist and bibliographer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She founded a small press, Working Cultures.

Beltway Poetry Quarterly: http://www.beltwaypoetry.com/poetry/poets/names/edgcomb-gabrielle/ DC Writers' Homes: http://dcwriters.poetrymutual.org/pages/edgcomb.html

Written by Kim Roberts, January 2016


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