Ballad by Sonia Sanchez

Ballad by Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez (born Wilsonia Benita Driver; September 9, 1934) is an African-American poet most often associated with the Black Arts Movement. She has authored over a dozen books of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays, and children's books. She was a recipient of 1993 Pew Fellowships in the Arts. In 2001, Sanchez was the recipient of the Robert Frost Medal for her poetry (one of the highest honors awarded to a nationally recognized poet) and has been influential to other African-American female poets, including Krista Franklin.

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If Only Out of Vanity by Staceyann Chin

If Only Out of Vanity by Staceyann Chin

Staceyann Chin (born December 25, 1972) is a spoken-word poet, performing artist and LGBT rights political activist. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Pittsburgh Daily, and has been featured on 60 Minutes. She was also featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she shared her struggles growing up as a gay person in Jamaica.

Openly lesbian, she has been an "out poet and political activist" since 1998. In addition to performing in and co-writing the Tony-nominated Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Chin has appeared in Off-Broadway one-woman shows and at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. She has also held poetry workshops worldwide. Chin credits her accomplishments to her hard-working grandmother and the pain of her mother's absence.

Chin's poetry can be found in her first chapbook, Wildcat Woman, the one she now carries on her back, Stories Surrounding My Coming, and numerous anthologies, including Skyscrapers, Taxis and Tampons, Poetry Slam, Role Call, Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies. Chin's voice can be heard on CD compilations out of Bar 13- Union Square and Pow Wow productions. In 2009, Chin published her autobiographical novel, The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir.

She is a host on Logo's After Ellen Internet show, "She Said What?" and a co-host of Centric's My Two Cents.

In 2009, Chin performed in The People Speak, a documentary feature film that uses dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries, and speeches of everyday Americans, based on historian Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

She currently teaches a seminar at the arts-oriented Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn.

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You Are Sucha Fool by Ntozake Shange

You Are Sucha Fool by Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange (/ˈɛntoʊˌzɑːki ˈʃɑːŋˌɡeɪ/ en-to-zah-kee shahng-gay; born October 18, 1948) is an American playwright, and poet. As a self-proclaimed black feminist, she addresses issues relating to race and feminism in much of her work.

Shange is best known for the Obie Award-winning play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.

She has also written several novels including Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, Liliane, and Betsey Brown, a novel about an African-American girl who runs away from home. Among her honors and awards are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, and a Pushcart Prize. In April 2016, Barnard College announced that it acquired Shange's archive. Shange lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Untitled by James Baldwin

Untitled by James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America, and their inevitable if unnameable tensions. Some Baldwin essays are book-length, for instance The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976).

Baldwin's novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration not only of black people, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalized obstacles to such individuals' quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room, written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.

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The Pampering of Leora by Thylias Moss

The Pampering of Leora by Thylias Moss

Thylias Moss (born February 27, 1954 in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American poet, writer, experimental filmmaker, sound artist and playwright, of African American, Native American, and European heritage, who has published a number of poetry collections, children's books, essays, and multimedia work she calls poems, products of acts of making, related to her work in Limited Fork Theory. Among her awards are a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, an Artist's Fellowship from the Massachusetts Arts Council, an NEA grant, and the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize Witter Bynner award for poetry.

Literary Critic Harold Bloom has favourably compared her work that of Anne Carson.

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To Be in Love by Gwendolyn Brooks

To Be in Love by Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet, author, and teacher. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. She won many awards for her work and influence, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, for Annie Allen making her the first African American to receive that award.

Throughout her career Brooks received many more honors. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position held until her death, and what is now the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for the 1985–86 term.

Brooks published her first poem, "Eventide", in a children's magazine, American Childhood, when she was 13 years old. By the age of sixteen she had already written and published approximately seventy-five poems. She received commendations on her poetic work and encouragement from James Weldon Johnson and later, Langston Hughes, both well-known writers with whom she kept communication with and whose readings she attended in Chicago. At seventeen, she started submitting her work to "Lights and Shadows," the poetry column of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper. Her poems, many published while she attended Wilson Junior College, ranged in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to poems using blues rhythms in free verse.

Her characters were often drawn from the inner city life that Brooks knew well. She said, "I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material."

By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. A particularly influential one was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark, an affluent white woman with a strong literary background. Stark offered writing workshops to African-Americans on Chicago's South Side, which Brooks attended. It was here she gained momentum in finding her voice and a deeper knowledge of the techniques of her predecessors. Renowned poet Langston Hughes stopped by the workshop and heard Brooks read "The Ballad of Pearl May Lee." Brooks continued to work diligently at her writing and growing the community of artists and writers around her as her poetry began to be taken more seriously. She and her husband frequently threw parties at their apartment at 623 E. 63rd Street and it was in the kitchenette of that apartment that Brooks hosted a party for her friend and mentor Langston Hughes. Once he unexpectedly dropped in and famously shared a meal of mustard greens, ham hocks, and candied sweet potatoes with Brooks and her husband Henry Blakely.

Brooks' published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), with Harper and Row, after strong show of support to the publisher from author Richard Wright.

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The Eyes of My Regret by Angelina Weld Grimké

The Eyes of My Regret by Angelina Weld Grimké

Angelina Weld Grimké (February 27, 1880 – June 10, 1958) was an American journalist, teacher, playwright and poet who came to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance. She was one of the first Woman of Colour/Interracial women to have a play publicly performed. 

Grimké wrote essays, short stories and poems which were published in The Crisis, the newspaper of the NAACP, edited by W.E.B. Du Bois; and Opportunity. They were also collected in anthologies of the Harlem Renaissance: The New Negro, Caroling Dusk, and Negro Poets and Their Poems. Her more well-known poems include "The Eyes of My Regret", "At April", "Trees" and "The Closing Door". While living in Washington, DC, she was included among the figures of the Harlem Renaissance, as her work was published in its journals and she became connected to figures in its circle. Some critics place her in the period before the Renaissance. During that time, she counted the poet Georgia Douglas Johnson as one of her friends.

Grimké wrote Rachel – originally titled Blessed Are the Barren – one of the first plays to protest lynching and racial violence. The three-act drama was written for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which called for new works to rally public opinion against D. W. Griffith's recently released film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed a racist view of blacks and of their role in the American Civil War and Reconstruction in the South. Produced in 1916 in Washington, D.C., and subsequently in New York City, Rachel was performed by an all-black cast. Reaction to the play was good. The NAACP said of the play: "This is the first attempt to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people relating to the lamentable condition of ten millions of Colored citizens in this free republic."

Rachel portrays the life of an African-American family in the North in the early 20th century. Centered on the family of the title character, each role expresses different responses to the racial discrimination against blacks at the time. The themes of motherhood and the innocence of children are integral aspects of Grimké's work. Rachel develops as she changes her perceptions of what the role of a mother might be, based on her sense of the importance of a naivete towards the terrible truths of the world around her. A lynching is the fulcrum of the play.

The play was published in 1920, but received little attention after its initial productions. In the years since, however, it has been recognized as a precursor to the Harlem Renaissance. It is one of the first examples of this political and cultural movement to explore the historical roots of African Americans.

Grimké wrote a second anti-lynching play, Mara, parts of which have never been published. Much of her fiction and non-fiction focused on the theme of lynching, including the short story, "Goldie." It was based on the 1918 lynching in Georgia of Mary Turner, a married black woman who was the mother of two children and pregnant with a third.

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I am Trying to Break Your Heart by Kevin Young

I am Trying to Break Your Heart by Kevin Young

Kevin Young (born November 8, 1970) is an American poet and teacher of poetry. Young graduated from Harvard College in 1992, held a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University (1992–94), and received his Master of Fine Arts from Brown University. While in Boston and Providence, he was part of the African-American poetry group the Dark Room Collective. He is heavily influenced by the poets Langston Hughes, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson and by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Young is the author of Most Way Home, To Repel Ghosts, Jelly Roll, Black Maria, For The Confederate Dead, Dear Darkness, and editor of Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, Blues Poems, Jazz Poems, and John Berryman's Selected Poems.

His poem "Black Cat Blues," originally published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, was included in The Best American Poetry 2005. Young's poetry has also appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and other literary magazines. In 2007, he served as guest editor for an issue of Ploughshares. He has written on art and artists for museums in Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

His 2003 book of poems Jelly Roll was a finalist for the National Book Award. Young was named a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in 2003, as well as an NEA Literature Fellow in Poetry. After stints at the University of Georgia and Indiana University, Young now teaches writing at Emory University, where he is the Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing, as well as the curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, a large collection of first and rare editions of poetry in English.

Beginning in the "late fall" of 2016, Young will serve as the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.

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Be Nobody's Darling by Alice Walker

Be Nobody's Darling by Alice Walker

Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. She wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She also wrote Meridian and The Third Life of Grange Copeland, among other works.

Walker's first book of poetry was written while she was a senior at Sarah Lawrence. She took a brief sabbatical from writing while working in Mississippi in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. magazine as an editor before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. Her 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", published in Ms. magazine, helped revive interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston inspired Walker's writing and influenced her subject matter. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. The women chipped in to buy a modest headstone for the gravesite.

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland– which follows the life of Grange Copeland, an abusive, irresponsible sharecropper, father, and husband– was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. Meridian is a "semiautobiographical narrative based upon Walker’s experience in the 1960s… [it] is her retrospective on the social, racial, and sexual upheavals that the Civil Rights and Black Power eras produced." The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.

In 1982, Walker published what has become her best-known work, The Color Purple. The novel follows a young troubled black woman fighting her way through not just racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie directed by Steven Spielberg featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as a 2005 Broadway musical totaling 910 performances.

Walker is the co-founder of Wild Tree Press, a feminist publishing company in Anderson Valley, California. She and fellow writer Robert L. Allen founded it in 1984.

Walker has written several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple). She has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other writings. Her work is focused on the struggles of black people, particularly women, and their lives in a racist, sexist, and violent society. Walker is a leading figure in liberal politics.

In 2007, Walker donated her papers, consisting of 122 boxes of manuscripts and archive material, to Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In addition to drafts of novels such as The Color Purple, unpublished poems and manuscripts, and correspondence with editors, the collection includes extensive correspondence with family members, friends and colleagues, an early treatment of the film script for The Color Purple, syllabi from courses she taught, and fan mail. The collection also contains a scrapbook of poetry compiled when Walker was 15, entitled "Poems of a Childhood Poetess."

In 2013, Alice Walker released two new books, one of them entitled The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way. The other was a book of poems entitled The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems).

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Southern Mansion by Arna Bontemps

Southern Mansion by Arna Bontemps

Arnaud "Arna" Wendell Bontemps (October 13, 1902 – June 4, 1973) was an American poet, novelist and librarian, and a noted member of the Harlem Renaissance. 

Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, into a Louisiana Creole family. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, worked as a bricklayer; his mother, Maria Carolina Pembroke, as a schoolteacher. When he was three years old, his family moved to Los Angeles, California in the Great Migration of blacks out of the South and into cities of the North, Midwest and West. They settled in what became known as the Watts district. After attending public schools, Bontemps attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, where he graduated in 1923. He majored in English and minored in history, and he was also a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

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How to Draw a Perfect Circle by Terrance Hayes

How to Draw a Perfect Circle by Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes (born November 18, 1971) is an American poet and educator who has published five poetry collections. His 2010 collection, Lighthead, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2010. In September 2014, he was one of 21 recipients of the prestigious MacArthur fellowships awarded to individuals who show outstanding creativity in their work.

Hayes was born in Columbia, South Carolina. He received a B.A. from Coker College and an M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh writing program. He was a Professor of Creative Writing at Carnegie Mellon University until 2013, at which time he joined the faculty at the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, the poet Yona Harvey, who also serves as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and their children.

Hayes first book of poetry, Muscular Music (1999), won both a Whiting Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His second collection, Hip Logic (2002), won the National Poetry Series, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He won the National Book Award for Lighthead.

Hayes poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Fence, The Kenyon Review, Jubilat Harvard Review, West Branch, and Poetry.

In praising Hayes's work, Cornelius Eady has said: "First you'll marvel at his skill, his near-perfect pitch, his disarming humor, his brilliant turns of phrase. Then you'll notice the grace, the tenderness, the unblinking truth-telling just beneath his lines, the open and generous way he takes in our world."

In September 2014, he was honored as one of the 21 2014 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The fellowship comes with a $625,000 stipend over five years and is one of the most prestigious prizes that is awarded for artists, scholars and professionals.

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Black Boys Play the Classics by Toi Derricotte

Black Boys Play the Classics by Toi Derricotte

Toi Derricotte (born April 12, 1941) is an American poet and a professor of writing at University of Pittsburgh. She won a 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. With Cornelius Eady, she co-founded Cave Canem Foundation, a summer workshop for African-American poets.

Derricotte was born in Hamtramck, Michigan, the daughter of Antonia Baquet, a Creole from Louisiana, and Benjamin Sweeney Webster, a Kentucky native, and later half-sister to Benjamin, Jr. At around 10 or 11 years of age, she began a secret journal that included, among other things, the disintegration of her parents' marriage and the death of her grandmother on whom she was very emotionally dependent. During her years at Detroit's Girls Catholic Central High School, Derricotte recounts a religious education that she felt was steeped in images of death and punishment, a Catholicism that, according to the poet, morbidly paraded "the crucifixion, saints, martyrs in the Old Testament and the prayers of the Mass." Coupled with these images were Derricotte's surreal reminiscences of childhood visits to her paternal grandparents' home, the bottom part of which served as a funeral parlor where bodies were prepared for viewing. Often she would stay overnight at her grandparents', where, unafraid, she would "pray over the bodies … especially … disturbed when young people died, children, babies."

Her first attempt at sharing her poems with others came when, at fifteen, she visited a cousin, a medical school student who was then taking an embryology class. Encouraged by a trip they took to the Chicago Museum to see fetuses and embryos at various stages of development, Derricotte, who was careful not to show her poems to her parents who never "even alluded to babies before birth ... [or] talked to [her] about sex," anxiously showed them to this cousin who pronounced them "sick, morbid." Faced with this unexpected rebuff, Derricotte remembers being faced with several choices: "I could have said something is wrong with me and stopped writing, or I could have continued to write, but written about the things I knew would be acceptable, or I could go back underground." For Derricotte, the choice was obvious: rather than risk ostracism for openly writing about the forbidden, she opted "to go back underground."

In 1959, Derricotte graduated from Girls Catholic Central and enrolled that autumn in Wayne State University as a special education major. In 1962, her junior year at Wayne State, she gave birth to a son in a home for unwed mothers. This act of rebellion was but a presage of things to come, as Derricotte, after graduating in 1965, left Detroit for the East Coast. At Wayne State University she earned a B.A. in 1965 and an M.A. in 1984 at New York University in English literature.

Her move to New York City in 1967 was a momentous one, for it was here among white, mostly female intellectuals that Derricotte's poetic voice resurfaced. Unlike the African-American poets of the Black Arts Movement, many of whom heeded Amiri Baraka's call for an artistic expression that was decidedly black nationalist, proletarian, and accessible, Derricotte wrote, instead, deeply personal, troubling, often difficult poems that talked more of black families haunted by gender oppression and familial strife than of Black Power and racial solidarity.

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Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander

Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. She is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. She is the former Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University. Alexander is a highly respected scholar, teacher, and mentor, as well as a founding member of Cave Canem, an organization dedicated to promoting African American poets and poetry. Her accomplishments within academia are numerous and include a Quantrelle Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Chicago and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and the Alphonse Fletcher Foundation. 

Alexander’s career as a poet has likewise been impressive. Her book American Sublime (2005) was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and in 2005 she was awarded the Jackson Poetry Prize. She is often recognized as a pivotal figure in African American poetry. When Barack Obama asked her to compose and read a poem for his Presidential inauguration, she joined the ranks of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams; her poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” became a bestseller after it was published as a chapbook by Graywolf Press.

Alexander writes on a variety of subjects, most notably race and gender, politics and history, and motherhood. The poet Clarence Major has described Alexander’s “instinct for turning her profound cultural vision into one that illuminates universal experience,” and Doris Lynch, writing for the Library Journal, commented that “memory and race” are “two of Alexander’s most powerful themes,” adding that “when Alexander’s forge is hot, the reader is transported to her world.” Alexander’s poems, short stories, and critical essays have been widely published in journals such as the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, the Village Voice, and Prairie Schooner. Her verse play Diva Studies was produced by the Yale School of Drama in May, 1996.

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For Freckled-Face Gerald by Etheridge Knight

For Freckled-Face Gerald by Etheridge Knight

Etheridge Knight (April 19, 1931 – March 10, 1991) was an African-American poet who made his name in 1968 with his debut volume, Poems from Prison. The book recalls in verse his eight-year-long sentence after his arrest for robbery in 1960. By the time he left prison, Knight had prepared a second volume featuring his own writings and works of his fellow inmates. This second book, first published in Italy under the title Voce negre dal carcere, appeared in English in 1970 as Black Voices from Prison. These works established Knight as one of the major poets of the Black Arts Movement, which flourished from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s. With roots in the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, and the Black Power Movement, American artists within the movement sought to create politically engaged work that explored the African-American cultural and historical experience.

Knight is also considered an important poet in the mainstream American tradition. In his 2012 book Understanding Etheridge Knight, Michael S. Collins calls Knight "a mighty American poet....He and Wallace Stevens stand as 'two poles of American poetry,' according to his better-known fellow writer Robert Bly. Or, rather, Knight was, as he often said, a poet of the belly: a poet of the earth and of the body, a poet of the feelings from which cries and blood oaths and arias come, while Stevens was a poet, arguably, of the ache left in the intellect after it tears itself from God. 'Ideas are not the source of poetry,' Knight told one interviewer. 'For me it's passion and feeling....'"

Knight was born to a poor family in rural Corinth, Mississippi, but spent time growing up in Paducah, Kentucky, before his family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. He was one of seven children. Although he was an extremely bright student, Knight decided to drop out of school at the age of 16. At such a young age, and in the era of legal segregation, his opportunities were limited. In his hometown, he could only find menial jobs such as shining shoes, and he spent much of his time at juke joints, pool halls, and underground poker games. Some have speculated that it might have been in this period that he began to use drugs, desperation to buy which later led to the robbery that landed him in jail. In any case, in an attempt to find himself and a purpose in life, the teenaged Knight decided to join the U.S. Army in 1947. He served as a medic in the Korean War until he was discharged from service in 1951, after suffering from a shrapnel wound and tremendous psychological trauma. He told the Rocky Mountain News, "There was a whole lot of dying and blood. No 17-year-old is ready for that. So I started using morphine." Some have speculated that Knight was already an addict before his war experiences. But, as Collins reports, the Vietnam War veteran and poet Yousef Komunyakaa does not believe that Knight could have made it through basic training in the army if he had been in the grip of addictive drugs.

After his discharge from the Army he settled in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he picked up the art of telling toasts —traditional, black, oral narrative poems acted out in a theatrical manner. During this time, he maintained his dependence on heroin and other illegal drugs.

In 1960, Knight snatched an elderly woman’s purse in order to support his addiction, and was sentenced to serve a 10- to 25-year term in the Indiana State Prison. Enraged by his lengthy prison sentence, which he believed to be unjust and racist in nature, Knight, during his first year of prison became hostile and belligerent in his ways. However, in the following years of incarceration, he turned to books such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the poetry of Langston Hughes. Inspired by them, he redirected his embitterment into the writing of poetry so as to liberate his soul. By drawing from his experience in toasting, Knight developed his verse into a transcribed-oral poetry. By 1963, Knight began identifying himself as a poet. He also started establishing contacts with significant figures in the African-American literary community. These contacts included Gwendolyn Brooks, who visited him in prison and critiqued his work. The poems he had written during his time in prison were so effective that Dudley Randall, a poet and owner of Broadside Press, published Knight’s first volume of verse, Poems from Prison, and hailed Knight as one of the major poets of the Black Arts Movement. The book’s publication coincided with his release from prison. Other poets such as Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, and Sonia Sanchez aided Knight in obtaining his parole in 1968.

Upon his release from prison in 1968, Knight married poet Sonia Sanchez. Over the next few years, he held the position of writer-in-residence at several universities, including two years, 1968 and 1969, spent at the University of Pittsburgh. While living in Pittsburgh with his wife and their family, Knight spent time as poetry editor for Motive magazine. As a result of his ongoing drug addiction, his marriage to Sanchez did not last long, and they were divorced in 1970 while still in Pittsburgh. He continued writing his third book, Belly Song and Other Poems, which was published in 1973. His third work incorporates new life experiences and attitudes about love and race, and Knight was praised for the work’s sincerity. Belly Song was nominated for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Knight’s time in Pennsylvania was very important to his career: his work during this period won him both a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1972 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974.

He married Mary McAnally in 1972, and she adopted two children. They settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, until they separated in 1977. He then resided in Memphis, Tennessee, where he received Methadone treatments. Knight rose from a life of poverty, crime, and drug addiction to become exactly what he expressed in his notebook in 1965: a voice that was heard and helped his people.

Knight continued to write throughout his post-prison life. Belly Song and Other Poems (1973) dealt with themes of racism and love. Knight believed the poet was a "meddler" or intermediary between the poem and the reader. He elaborated on this concept in his 1980 work Born of a Woman. The Essential Etheridge Knight (1986) is a compilation of his work.

In 1990, he earned a bachelor's degree in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis. Knight taught at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Hartford, and Lincoln University, before he was forced to stop working due to illness. He also continued to be known as a charismatic poetry reader. Knight died in Indianapolis, Indiana, of lung cancer on March 10, 1991.

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On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley

On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley, also spelled Phyllis and Wheatly (c. 1753 – December 5, 1784) was the first published African-American female poet. Born in West Africa, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven or eight and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.

The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame both in England and the American colonies. Figures such as George Washington praised her work. During Wheatley's visit to England with her master's son, African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in his own poem. Wheatley was emancipated after the death of her master, John Wheatley. She married soon afterward. Two of her children died as infants. After her husband was imprisoned for debt in 1784, Wheatley fell into poverty and died of illness, quickly followed by the death of her surviving infant son.

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Alone by Maya Angelou

Alone by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou  born Marguerite Annie Johnson; April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), tells of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.

She became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, sex worker, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. She was an actor, writer, director, and producer of plays, movies, and public television programs. In 1982, she earned the first lifetime Reynolds Professorship of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Beginning in the 1990s, she made around 80 appearances a year on the lecture circuit, something she continued into her eighties. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" (1993) at President Bill Clinton's inauguration, making her the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961.

With the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou publicly discussed aspects of her personal life. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. Attempts have been made to ban her books from some U.S. libraries, but her works are widely used in schools and universities worldwide. Angelou's most celebrated works have been labeled as autobiographical fiction, but many critics consider them to be autobiographies. She made a deliberate attempt to challenge the common structure of the autobiography by critiquing, changing, and expanding the genre. Her books center on themes such as racism, identity, family, and travel.

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Dreams by Nikki Giovanni

Dreams by Nikki Giovanni

Yolande Cornelia "Nikki" Giovanni, Jr. (born June 7, 1943) is an American poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. One of the world's most well-known African-American poets, her work includes poetry anthologies, poetry recordings, and nonfiction essays, and covers topics ranging from race and social issues to children's literature. She has won numerous awards, including the Langston Hughes Medal, the NAACP Image Award, and has been nominated for a Grammy Award, for her Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection. Additionally, she has recently been named as one of Oprah Winfrey’s twenty-five “Living Legends.” 

Giovanni gained initial fame in the late 1960s as one of the foremost authors of the Black Arts Movement. Influenced by the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement of the period, her early work provides a strong, militant African-American perspective, leading one writer to dub her the "Poet of the Black Revolution." During the 1970s, she began writing children's literature, and co-founded a publishing company, NikTom,Ltd to provide an outlet for other African American women writers. Over subsequent decades, her works discussed social issues, human relationships, and hip-hop. Poems such as "Knoxville, Tennessee," and "Nikki-Rosa" have been frequently re-published in anthologies and other collections.

Giovanni has taught at Queens College, Rutgers, and Ohio State, and is currently a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. Following the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, she delivered a chant-poem at a memorial for the shooting victims.

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I Don't Miss It by Tracy K. Smith

I Don't Miss It by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith (born April 16, 1972) is an American poet and educator. She has published three collections of poetry. She won the Pulitzer Prize for a 2011 collection, Life on Mars. About this collection, Joel Brouwer wrote in 2011: "Smith shows herself to be a poet of extraordinary range and ambition. ... As all the best poetry does, Life on Mars first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled."

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Harvest Song by Jean Toomer

Harvest Song by Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer (December 26, 1894 – March 30, 1967) was an African American poet and novelist and an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance and modernism. His first book Cane, published in 1923, is considered by many to be his most significant.

He continued to write poetry, short stories and essays. After his second marriage in 1934, he moved from New York to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where he became a member of the Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) and retired from public life. His papers are held by the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University.

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Coffee Break by Kwame Dawes

Coffee Break by Kwame Dawes

Kwame Senu Neville Dawes (born 28 July 1962, Ghana) is an Emmy award-winning poet, actor, editor, critic, musician, and former Louis Frye Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of South Carolina. He is now Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and editor-in-chief at Prairie Schooner magazine. New York-based Poets & Writers named Dawes as a recipient of the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, which recognises writers who have given generously to other writers or to the broader literary community.

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