Poet Louise Crenshaw Ray (1890-1956) was born and lived her entire life in Alabama, publishing four volumes of poetry during her lifetime. Her work is suffused with the history and culture of the state.
Louise Crenshaw Ray Ray was born in rural Butler County, on May 17, 1890, to Thaddeus Henry and Anne Hadden Crenshaw; she was the second of seven children. Her father served three terms in the Alabama Legislature, and her great great grandfather Anderson Crenshaw served on the Alabama Supreme Court. Crenshaw County is named for him. Her cousin Edith Crenshaw Tatum was also an accomplished author. Ray graduated from the Methodist Women’s College of Alabama (now Huntingdon College) in 1908. She went on to receive a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Alabama and married Benjamin Franklin Ray, a lawyer, on January 23, 1918. The couple would have two daughters. In 1937, she became the first person selected as Outstanding Alumna of Huntingdon College.
Ray’s poetry reflects both her childhood and adult life in Alabama. Her early work is geared more toward an adolescent audience and is rich in state history, prominently featuring the artifacts and landmarks of Native American cultures, as well as artifacts of the Spanish conquest. Her poems dealing with Native Americans emphasize the loss that Alabama suffered by driving them out. Ray also celebrates the timeless beauty of Alabama’s natural world in poems such as “Winter Woods,” “Red Mountain,” and “Midsummer Rainy Spell.”
Ray’s style ranges from traditional verse to an almost prose-like free form. Some of her work is more experimental in style and delves into the clash of rural and urban Alabama by depicting the prominence of the steel industry. One of her most poignant poems featuring this theme is “Giuseppe’s Gold,” which tells of an Italian immigrant who comes to the steel mills in search of fortune, only to be left maddened by the noise of the mills and plunging his hands into molten steel to save his week’s pay.
Ray’s later work deals more with love, loss, and racial issues, a reflection of her personal and poetic maturity. This stage in Ray’s work is best characterized by her poem “Middle-Aged Quixote.”
Even though Ray’s early work is geared toward an adolescent audience, all of her poetry, especially the later work, is appealing to adult readers as well. Additionally, she wrote articles for the Alabama League of Pen Women about her family’s historic homes. She died on October 23, 1956, in Birmingham.
Works by Crenshaw
Color of Steel (1932)
Secret Shoes (1939)
Strangers on the Stairs (1944)
Autumn Token (1957)