It was ten years ago this month that my third book with the very long academic title, The Life and Poetry of John Beecher, 1904 – 1980: Advocate for Poetry as a Spoken Art, was published by Edwin Mellen Press. The book was based on my master’s thesis for the Master of Liberal Arts program at Auburn University at Montgomery. At the time of its publication, it was the only book about Beecher, though Angela Smith’s Here I Stand was since published in 2009.
A descendant of the abolitionist Beecher family, John Henry Newman Beecher was a prolific writer, editor, poet, journalist, and social activist who rebelled against his privileged upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama after experiencing the working conditions in the steel mills as a teenager. After a bit of success as a poet in the 1920s, he worked as a New Deal programs administrator in the 1930s, then volunteered for the Navy’s first racially integrated crew during World War II. In 1949, Beecher was blacklisted for refusing to sign a loyalty oath and spent the 1950s as a rancher, letterpress printer, and independent publisher. Beecher’s return to mainstream society in the 1960s led him to cover the Civil Rights movement for Commonweal and Ramparts magazines, and his poetry received greater attention. His Collected Poems, 1924 – 1974 was published by Macmillan in 1975. However, after his death in 1980, Beecher’s works went out of print, and he faded into obscurity until a volume of selected poems, One More River to Cross, was published by NewSouth Books in 2003.