Samuel Washintgon Allen (Paul Vesey)

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Samuel Washington Allen (b. 1917) wrote four books of poetry, Elfebein Zahne (1956), Ivory Tusks and Other Poems (1968), Paul Vesey’s Ledger (1975), and Every Round (1987) all under the pen name Paul Vesey. His poems have been published in over 200 anthologies as well. Before taking on the profession of writing, he studied law at Fisk University (where he was part of a workshop taught by James Weldon Johnson), worked as a lawyer, then served in the Army for four years. His time in the Army gave him a chance to reflect and a space to realize that he was quite interested in writing, thus he pursued writing as a career after his time in the Army. Allen was Avalon Professor of Humanities at Tuskegee Institute (where he also served as writer-in-residence) and went on to teach at Wesleyan University for a year, then at Boston University for 10 years until his retirement in 1981. He also served as writer-in-residence at Rutgers University. He lived in DC from 1961 to 1968. Allen also edits, translates, lectures, and reviews poetry by other African American writers; he translated the crucial French works Orphee Noir by Jean-Paul Sartre and Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poesie Negre by Leopold Senghor. His poetry centers on slavery, racial issues, and Biblical stories. It is alarming at times, revealing such horrors as lynching in stark detail, while keeping elegant rhymes and building drama. He often uses unique perspectives on historic events, such as in his poem “View from the Corner,” which discusses his impressions of racial issues when he was a six-year-old boy, and “In the Temple,” which tells the story of Jesus storming a temple to punish moneylenders from the view of a bystander interested in Mary’s reaction. Allen has brought his knowledge of black affairs to major national and international conferences, in both literary and political settings. He has read his poetry throughout America as well as overseas.

Samuel Allen tape from Grace Cavalieri collection at Gelman Library AND AND

Written by Word Works intern Monica Root, December 2013.

Beltway Poetry Quarterly:

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