Sterling Allen Brown (May 1, 1901 – January 13, 1989) was an African-American professor, author of works on folklore, poetry and literary criticism. He was interested chiefly in black culture of the Southern United States.
Brown was born on the campus of Howard University in Washington D.C.. His father, Sterling N. Brown, a former slave, was a prominent minister and professor at Howard University Divinity School. His mother Grace Adelaide Brown taught in D.C. public schools for over fifty years. Brown was educated at Dunbar High School and graduated as the top student. He received a scholarship to attend Williams College. Graduating from Williams Phi Beta Kappa in 1922, he continued his studies at Harvard University, receiving an MA a year later.
The same year, he became an English teacher at Virginia Theological Seminary, a position he would hold for the next three years. In 1927 he married Daisy Turnbull. They had two children.
Brown began his teaching career with positions at several universities, including Lincoln University and Fisk University, before returning to Howard in 1929. He was a professor there for forty years. He taught and wrote about African-American literature and folklore. He was a pioneer in the appreciation of this genre.
In 1969 Brown retired from his faculty position at Howard and turned full time to poetry
He was also a life member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, one of the first African-American fraternities.
In 1933 Brown published his first book of poetry Southern Road. It was a collection of poetry with rural themes and treated the simple lives of poor, black, country folk with poignancy and dignity. It also used authentic dialect and structures. Despite the success of this book, he struggled to find a publisher for the followup, No Hiding Place.
His poetic work was influenced in content, form and cadence by African-American music, including work songs, blues and jazz. Like that of Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and other black writers of the period, his work often dealt with race and class in the United States. He was deeply interested in a folk-based culture, which he considered most authentic. Brown is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance artistic tradition, although he spent the majority of his life in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast Washington, D.C..
In 1979, the District of Columbia declared May 1, his birthday, Sterling A. Brown Day.
The Friends of Libraries USA in 1997 named Founders Hall at Howard University a Literary Landmark, the first so designated in Washington, DC.
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