William Stanley Braithwaite, born December 6, 1878, in Boston, was a poet, literary critic, editor, and anthologist. He was the son of William Smith Braithwaite, who immigrated from British Guiana, and Emma DeWolfe, who may have been the daughter of a North Carolina planter. DeWolfe’s grandmother had been enslaved in North Carolina. Raised in a prosperous home until his father died, Braithwaite was forced to leave school at age twelve to support his family. He thus embarked on educating himself while working as an errand boy and porter, before being hired as an apprentice at a printing company. Braithwaite learned typesetting while setting poems by John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth. These Romantic poets inspired within him a love of lyric poetry, which later influenced Braithwaite’s own work.
Braithwaite first published poems and reviews in the Boston publications Journal and Transcript. He published his first poetry collection, Lyrics of Life and Love (Herbert B. Turner & Co.), in Boston in 1904. Two years later, Braithwaite embarked on a career as a critic, publishing a regular column in Transcript. In his column, he promoted the poetry of Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Amy Lowell, in addition to publishing early work by Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, and Edgar Lee Masters. Finally, he brought critical attention to numerous emerging Black poets, including Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and his friend, Countee Cullen, who dedicated Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Negro Verse (Harper & Brothers, 1927) to Braithwaite. Braithwaite also started Poetry Journal, a Boston-based magazine dedicated to American poetry, in 1912. The venture failed, however, after Harriet Monroe launched Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in Chicago in the same year. Braithwaite produced, instead, the Anthology of Magazine Verse, an annual publication that became so powerful that a poet’s inclusion in it was an indicator of literary success. Braithwaite’s selections were so significant that Monroe nicknamed him “Sir Oracle.”
Braithwaite’s books include Selected Poems (Coward-McCann, 1948); The House of Falling Leaves with Other Poems (John W. Luce & Company, 1908); and Lyrics of Life and Love (Herbert B. Turner & Company, 1904). He also edited numerous anthologies of poetry and the children’s book The Story of the Great War (Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1919). Additionally, he contributed critical essays on poetry to Alain Locke’s seminal Harlem Renaissance anthology, The New Negro (Albert and Charles Boni, 1925).
In 1918, Braithwaite was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Arthur B. Spingarn Medal for his achievements in literature.
In 1935, Braithwaite accepted a teaching position at Atlanta University and spent the next ten years there, teaching creative writing. He moved to Harlem in 1945 and remained there until his death at his home on June 8, 1962.