The following is a transcript of a talk I gave at the Poetry Foundation on September 14th, 2017. I, along with Richard Guzman, Haki Madhubuti, Vida Cross, and Don Evans inducted Johnson into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
Fenton Johnson was born in 1888 and matured during one of the most turbulent eras in American history. These were the years when the modern global finance system, consumer capitalism, and technological innovation were turning the world on its head. In the short 26 years from when Johnson was born to when he published his first collection poetry in 1913, the United States had weathered six international financial panics, had grown into a military empire, and had been completely upended by electrification, the telephone, the phonograph, the radio, the automobile, the airplane, and the motion picture industry. The scale of daily American life was simultaneously shrinking and expanding in…
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