Margaret Esse Danner was born on January 12, 1915 in Pryorsburg, Kentucky, to Caleb and Naomi Danner and spent most of her childhood living in Chicago, Illinois. In the eighth grade Danner won first prize for her poem titled “The Violin” which describes Guarnerius and Stradivarius violins.
After graduating from Englewood High School in Chicago, Danner attended Loyola University, Roosevelt College, Northwestern University, and YMCA College, studying under poets Paul Eagle and Karl Shapiro. In 1945 she won second place at Northwestern’s Poetry Workshop of the Midwestern Writers Conference. Danner became editorial assistant for Poetry: The Magazine of Verse in 1951 and was promoted to assistant editor in 1956, the first African-American to serve in that position.
Danner’s first collection of poetry was Impressions of African Art Forms, published by the Contemporary Studies of Miles Poetry Association at Wayne State University in 1960, and republished by Broadside Press in 1961. Danner’s poetry was included in Forerunners: Black Poets in America in 1975, where she wrote, "As for my poetry: I believe that my dharma is to prove that the Force of Good takes precedence over the force for evil in mankind. To the extent that my poetry adheres to this purpose it will endure." Other publications by Danner include To Flower: Poems (1963), Iron Lace (1968), Not Light, Nor Bright, Nor Feathery (1968), Poem Counterpoem with Dudley Randall (1969), and The Down of a Thistle: Selected Poems, Prose Poems, and Songs (1976).
In 1951 Danner received the John Hay Whitney Fellowship Award and used it to travel to Africa in 1966. She went to Dakar, Senegal to read some of her poems at the World Exposition of Negro Arts and used the remainder of the fellowship to travel to Paris to research an exhibit of African art. Other awards she earned include the Harriet Tubman Award in 1965, the Poets in Concert Award in 1968, and the African Studies Association Award.
In the early 1960’s Danner, along with Robert Hayden, became active in the Baha’i faith which promotes unity, harmony, and peace. From 1964 to 1966, Danner became a touring poet with the sponsorship of the Baha’i Teaching Committee.
Danner was a member of the society of Contemporary Artists, Afro-American Culture, National Council of Teachers of English, Nologonyu’s, Boone House, and Chicago Southside Community Art Center.
Danner died on January 1, 1984 in Chicago, Illinois.
From the guide to the Danner, Margaret. Papers, 1940-1984, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)