Srikanth Reddy with Liesl Olson and Ed Roberson on Margaret Danner’s “The Elevator Man Adheres to Form”

May 31, 2022

This week, we return to the little-known world of Margaret Danner with guest editor Srikanth Reddy, historian Liesl Olson, and poet Ed Roberson. Olson and Roberson were the people who first introduced Reddy to Margaret Danner’s poetry. Olson is the Director of Chicago Studies at the Newberry Library, the building where Margaret Danner worked as an editor of Poetry magazine from 1951 to 1956. Roberson is a celebrated poet living in the South Side of Chicago—probably not far from where Danner grew up and wrote much of her poetry. 

Born in 1915, Danner was a contemporary of Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes—and knew them personally—but she never achieved the recognition she deserved in her lifetime. It’s hard to find her poetry in print; in fact, Reddy might have borrowed one of the last copies of her collected poems left in Chicago in preparation for this podcast. 

Danner wrote about many things—the civil rights movement, African art, gender, class, and faith (there’s a previous episode of the Poetry Magazine Podcast that focuses on Danner’s Baha’i faith). Today, we do a deep dive into one of Danner’s poems that explores race, class, and social mobility in 1950s America. It’s called, “The Elevator Man Adheres to Form,” and it may (or may not) be about an elevator operator who worked at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

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