Esther Popel Biography

Popel was known as a poet of the Harlem Renaissance period. She worked as a review editor for a number of African-American journals, predominately for The Journal of Negro Education. Popel was born in Harrisburg, PA,and graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. She taught at two schools in the Washington, D.C. area: the Francis Jr. High and the Shaw Jr. High (She taught French and Spanish at the Francis Junior High School.) Popel was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa. She was fluent in four languages: French, Spanish, Latin and German.

Her book, A Forest Pool, was privately printed. Many of her works/reviews seemed to highlight the injustice of the American system towards African-Americans. In her review of A Colored Woman in a White World, written by Mary Church Terrell, Popel called attention to the fact that H.G. Wells went against his self-imposed precedent to write and questioned how the president of Cornell University, President White (1883) could have made bold statements about an America free from prejudice and intolerance. Wells was quoted as stating that the life presented in the Terrell autobiography was filled with violence, injustice and insult in which “she has been compelled to live her life.” Popel noted that it was significant to think about the fact that Wells chose to put his thought in writing in such a direct book that highlighted the problems of African-Americans.

Popel was active in the literary salon that was hosted by poet Georgia Douglas Johnson. She also became friends with Langston Hughes and Marita Bonner. Popel’s poetry style has been listed as lyrical, religious and political.
Her personal information is difficult to locate, but what is known is that she was married to William A. Shaw (he died in 1946). They had one daughter, Patricia Shaw Iversen.
In reading Popel’s poems, it is good to keep in mind that she lived during the Great Depression and the formation of the Harlem Renaissance period.