About the event

Watch the recording of this event:

Please join us with our friends at Harvard Library's Woodberry Poetry Room for this rare look at the remarkable life and work of Helene Johnson (1906-1995), featuring a dynamic conversation with her daughter Abigail McGrath and brief readings of Johnson's work by former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith and Eileen Myles.

Moderated by Johnson scholar Verner D. Mitchell, the event will offer audiences a unique lens on such authors as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Nella Larsen, as well as the poet's cousin Dorothy West. It will also provide the first opportunity to encounter several lost poems and variants by Johnson that were discovered during the Pandemic.

The program will end with an engaging audience Q&A and a brief video---produced by John Mulrooney and featuring recordings by Toni Bee and Danielle Legros Georges---celebrating the materials recently unearthed by Johnson's longtime neighbor Matt Imperiale.

Photo of Helene Johnson, 1931, signed to cousin Dorothy West. Used with the permission of Abigail McGrath.

Further Reading: To learn more about Helene Johnson's work, we encourage you to read This Waiting for Love: Helene Johnson: Poet of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Verner D. Mitchell, and the Lost & Found chapbook series edition of Johnson's work: "The Boat Is Tethered to the Floor": After the Harlem Renaissance.

How to Attend: This Poetry Room event is free and open to the public (with a maximum capacity of 1,000 participants). Please register here.


After registering for the event, you will receive an email from [email protected] with your unique Zoom meeting link. We recommend that you keep this link handy for the day of the event.

Code of Conduct: We have chosen the Zoom Meeting format to support community-building during the pandemic. As a courtesy to others, we ask that you keep your mic muted during presentations. Chat comments or remarks should be respectful, succinct, and on-topic. We reserve the right to mute or remove participants who do not abide by these primary codes of conduct.

Applause, Applause: Because Zoom doesn't convey collective (sonic) applause very well, we've decided to play vintage applause from our A/V archive. But, after each presentation, please lift up your hands and offer visual applause. You can also type your words of praise into the Zoom Chat.

The Digital Hereafter: For those who cannot attend the entire live-streaming event or would like to share it with others, a recording will be made available via our YouTube channel, within 6 weeks of the original broadcast featuring professional closed-captioning. For those who would like an accommodation during the live event, please contact us at [email protected] as soon as possible: live closed-captioning may require up to 3 days' notice.

This event is organized and hosted by the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard Library, with media co-sponsor support from Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.