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About this poet

Sterling Brown was born in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1901. He was educated at Dunbar High School and received a bachelor's degree from Williams College. He studied the work of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, but was more interested in the works of Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. In 1923, he earned a master's degree from Harvard University and was employed as a teacher at the Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg until 1926. Three years later, Brown began teaching at Howard University and in 1932 his first book, Southern Road, was published.

His poetry was influenced by jazz, the blues, work songs and spirituals and, like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, and other black poets of the period, his writing expresses his concerns about race in America. Southern Road was well received by critics and Brown became part of the artistic tradition of the Harlem Renaissance, but with the arrival of the Depression, Brown could not find a publisher for his second book of verse. He turned to writing essays and focused on his career as a teacher at Howard, where he taught until his retirement in 1969. He finally published his second book of poetry, The Last Ride of Wild Bill, in 1975. Brown is known for his frank, unsentimental portraits of black people and their experiences, and the incorporation of African American folklore and contemporary idiom into his verse. He died in 1989 in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Selected Bibliography


Southern Road (1932)
The Collected Poems of Sterling Brown (1980)
The Last Ride of Wild Bill and Eleven Narrative Poems (1975)


Negro Poetry and Drama (1937)
Outline for the Study of Poetry of American Negroes (1931)
The Negro in American Fiction (1937)

Slim Greer in Hell


Slim Greer went to heaven;
  St. Peter said, "Slim,
You been a right good boy."
  An' he winked at him.

     "You been travelin' rascal
       In yo'day.
     You kin roam once mo';
       Den you come to stay.

"Put dese wings on yo' shoulders,
  An' save yo' feet."
Slim grin, and he speak up,
  "Thankye, Pete."

     Den Peter say, "Go
       To Hell an' see,
     All dat is doing, and 
       Report to me.

"Be sure to remember
  How everything go."
Slim say, "I be seein' yuh
  On de late watch, bo."

     Slim got to cavortin'
       Swell as you choose,
     Like Lindy in de Spirit
       Of St. Louis Blues.

He flew an' he flew,
  Till at last he hit
A hangar wid de sign readin'

     Den he parked his wings,
       An' strolled aroun',
     Gittin' used to his feet
       On de solid ground.


Big bloodhound came aroarin'
  Like Niagry Falls,
Sicked on by white devils 
  In overhalls.

Now Slim warn't scared
  Cross my heart, it's a fac',
An de dog went on a bayin'
  Some po' devil's track.

     Den Slim saw a mansion
	  An' walked right in;
     De Devil looked up
	  Wid a sickly grin.

"Suttingly didn't look 
  Fo' you, Mr. Greer,
How it happens you comes
  To visit here?"

     Slim say---"Oh, jes' thought 
       I'd drop by a spell."
     "Feel at home, seh, an' here's
	  De keys to hell."

Den he took Slim around
  An' showed him people
Rasin' hell as high as
  De first Church Steeple.

     Lots of folks fightin'
       At de roulette wheel,
     Like old Rampart Street,
       Or leastwise Beale.

Showed him bawdy houses
  An' cabarets,
Slim thought of New Orleans
  An' Memphis days.

     Each devil was busy
       Wid a devlish broad,
     An' Slim cried, "Lawdy,
       Lawd, Lawd, Lawd."

Took him in a room
  Where Slim see
De preacher wid a brownskin
  On each knee.

     Showed him giant stills,
       Going everywhere,
     Wid a passel of devils
       Stretched dead drunk there.

Den he took him to de furnace
  Dat some devils was firing,
Hot as Hell, an' Slim start
  A mean presspirin'.

     White devils with pitchforks
       Threw black devils on,
     Slim thought he'd better
       Be gittin' along.

An' he says---"Dis makes
  Me think of home---
Vicksburg, Little Rock, Jackson,
  Waco and Rome."

     Den de devil gave Slim
       De big Ha-Ha;
     An' turned into a cracker,
       Wid a sheriff's star.

Slim ran fo' his wings,
  Lit out from de groun'
Hauled it back to St. Peter,
  Safety boun'.


     St. Peter said, "Well,
       You got back quick.
     How's de devil?  An' what's
       His latest trick?"

An' Slim Say, "Peter,
  I really cain't tell,
The place was Dixie
  That I took for hell."

     Then Peter say, "you must
       Be crazy, I vow,
     Where'n hell dja think Hell was,

"Git on back to de yearth,
  Cause I got de fear,
You'se a leetle too dumb,
  Fo' to stay up here. . ."

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown by Sterling A. Brown. Copyright © 1980 Sterling A. Brown. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

From The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown by Sterling A. Brown. Copyright © 1980 Sterling A. Brown. Used by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Sterling A. Brown

Sterling A. Brown

Sterling Brown was born in Washington, D.C., in 1901. He was educated

by this poet

Swing dat hammer--hunh--
Steady, bo';
Swing dat hammer--hunh--
Steady, bo';
Ain't no rush, bebby,
Long ways to go.

Burner tore his--hunh--
Black heart away;
Burner tore his--hunh--
Black heart away;
Got me life, bebby,
An' a day.

Gal's on Fifth Street--hunh--
Son done gone;
Gal's on Fifth Street--hunh--
A man git his feet set in a sticky mudbank,
A man git dis yellow water in his blood,
No need for hopin', no need for doin',
Muddy streams keep him fixed for good.

Little Muddy, Big Muddy, Moreau and Osage,
Little Mary's, Big Mary's, Cedar Creek,
Flood deir muddy water roundabout a man's roots,
Keep him soaked