For My People, by Margaret Walker, Limited Editions Club, 1992

Margaret Walker (1915-1998) was born in Birmingham, Alabama. She is one of the most talented and respected African American poets to come out of the American South. The poem For My People (1942) is her most popular and enduring work while her 1966 novel Jubilee, about her great-grandmother’s life as a slavealso receives significant critical acclaim.

The poem is humanistic, passionate, gritty and realistic, awash with feeling and concrete imagery of the toils African-Americans have struggled with throughout their history in America. Walker talks to African-Americans directly in a dedicative type manner:

For my people everywhere singing their slave songs
repeatedly: their dirges and their ditties and their blues
and jubilees, praying their prayers nightly to an
unknown god, bending their knees humbly to an
unseen power;

For my people lending their strength to the years, to the
gone years and the now years and the maybe years,

The poem gains power as it deftly weaves in the sadness, hopelessness and despair felt by African-Americans growing up under the racism that so long plagued their culture and lives.

never gaining never reaping never
knowing and never understanding;

For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
people who and the places where and the days when, in
memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we
were black and poor and small and different and nobody
cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these things to
be man and woman, to laugh and dance and sing and
play and drink their wine and religion and success, to
marry their playmates and bear children and then die
of consumption and anemia and lynching;

For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way
from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding,
trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people,
all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless
generations;

Her message to her people is to move forward with a sustaining faith, “Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born.” I was not familiar with Walker or this poem. I am glad to have made its acquaintance.

Elizabeth Catlett (b.1915) is a highly respected, award-winning African-American artist and is renowned for her teaching. She was the first person to get an MFA in sculpture from the University of Iowa. While in Mexico, she met and married a Mexican artist, and became a Mexican citizen. She has been very active in arts groups and her own painting and sculpture. Her work is on display in numerous important galleries and museums, such as Institute of Fine Arts, Mexico; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C;  and the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

{Ed. Note: Thanks to Carol Grossman for information on Elizabeth Catlett. Also, I believe LEC’s Jeanne Shiff may have a few of these left to sell, you can contact her at 212-737-7600 or 800-701-8870 to inquire about price and to order, if interested.}

About the Edition

  • Published in 1992
  • One volume, 18 1/2″ by 22 1/2″
  • Five lithographs by Elizabeth Catlett
  • Each of the poems ten stanzas was hand set in thirty-point Albertus type, a sans-serif face that looks as if chiseled out of granite
  • The text was printed letterpress on French-made Arches cover paper
  • The Elizabeth Catlett lithographs were printed on Arches paper
  • The book is bound in imported red Japanese linen over heavy boards
  • The box is covered in black cotton
  • Limited to 400 copies
  • Each signed by Margaret Walker and Elizabeth Catlett

Pictures

{Ed. Note: I apologize for the less then stellar pictures that follow. This was not taken with my good camera, nor was the lighting ideal. Shadows and tone differences you see are from the room lighting. The book was beautiful, with fantastic paper, great color and the extremely high quality you expect from all the later LEC editions.}

For My People, LEC, Solander Box
For My People, LEC, Cover Detail
For My People, LEC, Prospectus
For My People, LEC, Title Page
For My People, LEC, Sample Text
For My People, LEC, Sample Illustration #1
For My People, LEC, Sample Illustration #2
For My People, LEC, Colophon

4 thoughts on “For My People, by Margaret Walker, Limited Editions Club, 1992

  1. Thank you for sharing. Margaret Walker was honored to have her work so memorialized by her friend, Elizabeth Catlett.

    As a professor of English at Jackson State University in 1968, Margaret Walker founded the Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People, one of the first Black Studies programs in the nation. Today, the Margaret Walker Center upholds that academic and artistic legacy as a museum and archive at JSU dedicated to the African-American experience.

    Visit us online at http://www.jsums.edu/margaretwalker.

  2. Simply superb. Sidney Shiff had a gift for extraordinary book design. Elizabeth Catlett’s lithographs and the unusual Albertus typeface work exceptionally well here.

  3. As you would expect, the book is beautifully produced with stunning images, but what really moved me was the few excerpts from Margaret Walker’s poem. The rhythm, poignancy and atmosphere of her words really affected me. Glad you made me aware of this.

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