John Brown's Body (poem)

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First edition cover
(Doubleday, Doran)
Tyrone Power in the Broadway production directed by Charles Laughton (1953)

John Brown's Body (1928) is an epic American poem written by Stephen Vincent Benét. Its title references the radical abolitionist John Brown, who raided the federal armory at Harpers Ferry in Virginia in October 1859. He was captured and hanged later that year. Benét's poem covers the history of the American Civil War.[1][2] It won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1929. It was written while Benét lived in Paris after receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1926.[3]

The poem was performed on Broadway in 1953 in a staged dramatic reading starring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, and directed by Charles Laughton. In 2015 the recorded performance was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry for the recording's "cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy".[4]

In 2002, the poem, transformed into a play, was performed in San Quentin State Prison by prisoners.[5] The 2013 documentary film John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison recounts the story of the production of the play.[6][7]


  1. ^ Peterson, Merrill D. (2002). John Brown: The Legend Revisited. University of Virginia Press. pp. 110. ISBN 978-0-8139-2132-7.
  2. ^ Blight, David W. "John Brown: Triumphant Failure". The American Prospect. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
  3. ^ Parini, J. (2004). The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Oxford reference library. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-19-515653-9. Retrieved August 6, 2019.
  4. ^ "National Recording Registry To "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"". the Library of Congress. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 25 March 2015.
  5. ^ Steven Winn (November 19, 2002). "Drama behind bars / San Quentin inmates taste freedom performing a play about slavery and liberation". San Francisco Chronicle.
  6. ^ "The John Brown's Body Project".
  7. ^ "John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison". Kanopy.

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