This week, in celebration of Black History Month, the Advice for Readers blog highlights books by some of America’s greatest poets. Our recommendations begin with a selection of poetry anthologies of African American poets, covering the vast, rich history of African American poetry, from Philllis Wheatley to Jamila Woods and more. Next, a very incomplete selection of poetry books and collections by some of the most important figures in African American poetry and American literature: James Weldon Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bob Kaufman, Rita Dove, and others. Though this list is far from exhaustive, OPL’s poetry collection contains works by and about many more of the great African-American poets of past and present. If you would like further reading recommendations, or other resources on this (or any) topic, please contact our call center at 510-238-3134, or take advantage of our Book Me! service by filling out this form to request a personalized reading list. For more detailed biographies of these and other African American poets, try our online resources, including Biography In Context and the Literature Resource Center.
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African American Poets and Poetry
African American Poetry : 250 Years of Struggle & Song edited by Kevin Young
Only now, in the 21st century, can we fully grasp the breadth and range of African American poetry: a magnificent chorus of voices, some familiar, others recently rescued from neglect. Here, in this unprecedented anthology expertly selected by poet and scholar Kevin Young, this precious living heritage is revealed in all its power, beauty, and multiplicity. Discover, in these pages, how an enslaved person like Phillis Wheatley confronted her legal status in verse and how an antebellum activist like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper voiced her own passionate resistance to slavery. Read nuanced, provocative poetic meditations on identity and self-assertion stretching from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Amiri Baraka to Lucille Clifton and beyond. Experience the transformation of poetic modernism in the works of figures such as Langston Hughes, Fenton Johnson, and Jean Toomer. Understand the threads of poetic history--in movements such as the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, Black Arts, Cave Canem, the Dark Room Collective--and the complex bonds of solidarity and dialogue among poets across time and place. See how these poets have celebrated their African heritage and have connected with other communities in the African Diaspora. Enjoy the varied but distinctly Black music of a tradition that draws deeply from jazz, hip hop, and the rhythms and cadences of the pulpit, the barbershop, and the street. And appreciate, in the anthology's concluding sections, why contemporary African American poetry, amply recognized in recent National Book Awards and Poet Laureates, is flourishing as never before. Taking the measure of the tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song sets a new standard for a genuinely deep engagement with Black poetry and its essential expression of American genius. -- From the publisher
The Vintage Book of African American Poetry edited and with an introduction by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton
In The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, editors Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton present the definitive collection of black verse in the United States--200 years of vision, struggle, power, beauty, and triumph from 52 outstanding poets. From the neoclassical stylings of slave-born Phillis Wheatley to the wistful lyricism of Paul Lawrence Dunbar . . . the rigorous wisdom of Gwendolyn Brooks...the chiseled modernism of Robert Hayden...the extraordinary prosody of Sterling A. Brown...the breathtaking, expansive narratives of Rita Dove...the plaintive rhapsodies of an imprisoned Elderidge Knight . . . The postmodern artistry of Yusef Komunyaka. Here, too, is a landmark exploration of lesser-known artists whose efforts birthed the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movements--and changed forever our national literature and the course of America itself. Meticulously researched, thoughtfully structured, The Vintage Book of African-American Poetry is a collection of inestimable value to students, educators, and all those interested in the ever-evolving tradition that is American poetry. -- From the publisher
Black Nature : Four Centuries Of African American Nature Poetry edited by Camille T. Dungy
This book is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated. Black poets have a long tradition of incorporating treatments of the natural world into their work, but it is often read as political, historical, or protest poetry, anything but nature poetry. This is particularly true when the definition of what constitutes nature writing is limited to work about the pastoral or the wild. The author has selected 180 poems from 93 poets that provide unique perspectives on American social and literary history to broaden our concept of nature poetry and African American poetics. This collection features major writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Wanda Coleman, Natasha Trethewey, and Melvin B. Tolson as well as newer talents such as Douglas Kearney, Major Jackson, and Janice Harrington. Included are poets writing out of slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century African American poetic movements. It also brings to the fore a neglected and vital means of considering poetry by African Americans and nature-related poetry as a whole. --From the publisher
Of Poetry & Protest : From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin edited and compiled by Philip Cushway and Michael Warr
This extraordinary volume collects the poems of forty-four of America s most talented African American wordsmiths, including Pulitzer Prize winning poets Rita Dove, Natasha Tretheway, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Tracy K. Smith, as well as the work of other luminaries such as Elizabeth Alexander, Ishmael Reed, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez. Accompanying each poem is a photograph of the poet along with a first-person biography, and the book also includes personal essays on race from Harry Belafonte, Amiri Baraka, and Reverend R. William Barber II, architect of the Moral Mondays movement. Images and iconic political posters of the Black Lives Matter movement, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party accompany the work. Taken together, this remarkable book gives voice to the current conversation about race in America while also providing historical and cultural context. It serves as an excellent introduction to African American poetry and is a must-have for every reader committed to social justice and racial harmony. --From the publisher
"After Mecca" : Women Poets And The Black Arts Movement by Cheryl Clarke
In "After Mecca," Cheryl Clarke explores the relationship between the Black Arts Movement and black women writers of the period. Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Alice Walker, and others chart the emergence of a new and distinct black poetry and its relationship to the black community's struggle for rights and liberation. Clarke also traces the contributions of these poets to the development of feminism and lesbian-feminism, and the legacy they left for others to build on. She argues that whether black women poets of the time were writing from within the movement or writing against it, virtually all were responding to it. Using the trope of "Mecca," she explores the ways in which these writers were turning away from white, western society to create a new literacy of blackness. Provocatively written, this book is an important contribution to the fields of African American literary studies and feminist theory. -- From the publisher
Black Girl Magic : BreakBeat Poets; Volume 2 edited by Mahogany L. Browne, Idrissa Simmonds, Jamila Woods
Black Girl Magic continues and deepens the work of the first BreakBeat Poets anthology by focusing on some of the most exciting Black women writing today. This anthology breaks up the myth of hip-hop as a boys’ club, and asserts the truth that the cypher is a feminine form. Poet and vocalist Jamila Woods was raised in Chicago, and graduated from Brown University, where she earned a BA in Africana Studies and Theatre & Performance Studies. Influenced by Lucille Clifton and Gwendolyn Brooks, much of her writing explores blackness, womanhood, and the city of Chicago. Mahogany L. Browne is a Cave Canem and Poets House alumna and the author of several books including Smudge and Redbone. She directs the poetry program of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Idrissa Simmonds is a fiction writer and poet. Her work has appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, The Caribbean Writer, Fourteen Hills Press, and elsewhere. She is the 2014 winner of the Crab Creek Review poetry contest, and a New York Foundation for the Arts and Commonwealth Short Story Award Finalist. -- From the publisher
The Collected Works Of Phillis Wheatley by Philis Wheatley
Although she was an enslaved person, Phillis Wheatley Peters was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America. Educated and enslaved in the household of prominent Boston commercialist John Wheatley, lionized in New England and England, with presses in both places publishing her poems, and paraded before the new republic’s political leadership and the old empire’s aristocracy, Wheatley was the abolitionists’ illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual. Her name was a household word among literate colonists and her achievements a catalyst for the fledgling antislavery movement. In the past decade, Wheatley scholars have uncovered poems, letters, and more facts about her life and her association with 18th-century Black abolitionists. They have also charted her notable use of classicism and have explicated the sociological intent of her biblical allusions. All this research and interpretation has proven Wheatley Peter’s disdain for the institution of slavery and her use of art to undermine its practice. Before the end of this century the full aesthetic, political, and religious implications of her art and even more salient facts about her life and works will surely be known and celebrated by all who study the 18th century and by all who revere this woman, a most important poet in the American literary canon. Biography from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/phillis-wheatley
Complete Poems by James Weldon Johnson
2000 mark[ed] the centenary of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," James Weldon Johnson's most famous lyric, which is now embraced as the Negro National Anthem. In celebration, this Penguin original collects all the poems from Johnson's published works—Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), God's Trombones (1927), and Saint Peter Relates an Incident of the Resurrection Day (1935)—along with a number of previously unpublished poems. Sondra Kathryn Wilson, the foremost authority on Johnson and his work, provides an introduction that sheds light on Johnson's many achievements and his pioneering contributions to recording and celebrating the African American experience. --From the publisher
The Collected Poetry Of Paul Laurence Dunbar edited and with an introduction by Joanne M. Braxton
This new "most complete" edition of the collected poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the virtual father of black American poetry, includes sixty poems not included in the previous―and now out of print―Complete Poems. Sixteen of these were found in manuscript form. Paul Laurence Dunbar's work achieved wide recognition in the first part of the twentieth century. The author of six volumes of poetry, as well as novels, librettos, songs, and essays, he was nationally known and accepted by black and white readers alike. As Joanne M. Braxton points out in her substantive introduction to this edition, a reconsideration of Dunbar's work and influence is long overdue: "We reclaim, in Paul Laurence Dunbar, a significant American author whose career transcends race and locality even while he makes use of racialized and regional cultural materials to create an African-American aesthetic and a unique black poetic diction.” --From the publisher
The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes
"Nearly ninety years after its first publication, this celebratory edition of The Weary Blues reminds us of the stunning achievement of Langston Hughes, who was just twenty-four at its first appearance. Beginning with the opening "Proem" (prologue poem)--"I am a Negro: / Black as the night is black, / Black like the depths of my Africa"--Hughes spoke directly, intimately, and powerfully of the experiences of African Americans at a time when their voices were newly being heard in our literature. As the legendary Carl Van Vechten wrote in a brief introduction to the original 1926 edition, "His cabaret songs throb with the true jazz rhythm; his sea-pieces ache with a calm, melancholy lyricism; he cries bitterly from the heart of his race. Always, however, his stanzas are subjective, personal," and, he concludes, they are the expression of "an essentially sensitive and subtly illusive nature." That illusive nature darts among these early lines and begins to reveal itself, with precocious confidence and clarity. In a new introduction to the work, the poet and editor Kevin Young suggests that Hughes from this very first moment is "celebrating, critiquing, and completing the American dream," and that he manages to take Walt Whitman's American "I" and write himself into it. We find here not only such classics as "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and the great twentieth-century anthem that begins "I, too, sing America," but also the poet's shorter lyrics and fancies, which dream just as deeply. "Bring me all of your / Heart melodies," the young Hughes offers, "That I may wrap them / In a blue cloud-cloth / Away from the too-rough fingers / Of the world.""-- Provided by publisher.
On These I Stand : An Anthology Of The Best Poems Of Countee Cullen by Countee Cullen
A prodigal poet of articulate manner and exceptional academic ability, Countee Cullen emerged in the 1920s as the most famous black writer in America. Apart from winning the immediate praise of critics, Cullen's poems found a devout following within Harlem's literary salons and bohemian circles. Inspired by European sonnet form, works of classical antiquity, and Biblical imagery, Cullen sought to create poetry that transcended the boundaries of race. "If I am going to be a poet at all," stated Cullen in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1924, "I am going to be Poet and not Negro Poet." Although unable to escape the reality of race in life or art, Cullen's universal vision yielded poetry imbued with both inner torment and beauty, which addressed the black artist's search for expression in the modern Western World. In 2013, Cullen was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame. -- Biography In Context
Collected Poems by Robert Hayden ; edited by Frederick Glaysher
Robert Hayden was one of the most important American poets of the twentieth century. He left behind an exquisite body of work, collected in this definitive edition, including A Ballad of Remembrance, Words in the Mourning Time, The Night-Blooming Cereus, Angle of Ascent, and American Journal, which was nominated for a National Book Award. Also included is an introduction by American poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, as well as an afterword by Arnold Rampersad that provides a critical and historical context. In Hayden’s work the actualities of history and culture became the launching places for flights of imagination and intelligence. His voice―characterized by musical diction and an exquisite feeling for the formality of pattern―is a seminal one in American life and literature. --From the publisher
Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
Selected Poems is the classic volume by the distinguished and celebrated poet Gwendolyn Brooks, winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize, and recipient of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This compelling collection showcases Brooks's technical mastery, her warm humanity, and her compassionate and illuminating response to a complex world. This edition also includes a special PS section with insights, interviews, and more—including a short piece by Nikki Giovanni entitled "Remembering Gwen." --From the publisher
Collected poems of Bob Kaufman edited by Neeli Cherkovski, Raymond Foye, and Tate Swindell
Bob Kaufman (1925–1986) was one of the most important—and most original—poets of the twentieth century. He is among the inaugurators of what today is characterized as the Afro-Surreal, uniting the surrealist practice of automatic writing with the jazz concept of spontaneous composition. He seldom wrote his poems down and often discarded those he did, leaving them to be rescued by others. He was also a legendary figure of the Beat Generation, known as much for hopping on tables to declaim his poetry as for maintaining a monastic silence for months or even years at a time. Kaufman produced just three broadsides and three books in his lifetime. In 1967, Golden Sardine was published by City Lights in its famed Pocket Poets Series, and became an instant cult classic. Collected Poems is a landmark poetic achievement, bringing together all of Kaufman’s known surviving poems, including an extensive section of previously uncollected work, in a long overdue return to City Lights Books. --From the publisher
The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou
Throughout her illustrious career in letters, Maya Angelou gifted, healed, and inspired the world with her words. Now the beauty and spirit of those words live on in this new and complete collection of poetry that reflects and honors the writer's remarkable life.
Every poetic phrase, every poignant verse can be found within the pages of this sure-to-be-treasured volume—from her reflections on African American life and hardship in the compilation Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Diiie (“Though there’s one thing that I cry for / I believe enough to die for / That is every man’s responsibility to man”) to her revolutionary celebrations of womanhood in the poem “Still I Rise” (“Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise”) to her “On the Pulse of Morning” tribute at President William Jefferson Clinton’s inauguration (“Lift up your eyes upon / The day breaking for you. / Give birth again / To the dream.”).
Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry also features her final long-form poems, including “A Brave and Startling Truth,” “Amazing Peace,” “His Day Is Done,” and the honest and endearing Mother:
“I feared if I let you go
You would leave me eternally.
You smiled at my fears, saying
I could not stay in your lap forever”
This collection also includes the never-before-published poem “Amazement Awaits,” commissioned for the 2008 Olympic Games:
“We are here at the portal of the world we had wished for
At the lintel of the world we most need.
We are here roaring and singing.
We prove that we can not only make peace, we can bring it with us.”
Timeless and prescient, this definitive compendium will warm the hearts of Maya Angelou’s most ardent admirers as it introduces new readers to the legendary poet, activist, and teacher—a phenomenal woman for the ages. --From the publisher
The Selected Works Of Audre Lorde edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay
"A definitive selection of prose and poetry from the self-described "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet," for a new generation of readers. Audre Lorde is an unforgettable voice in twentieth-century literature, one of the first to center the experiences of black, queer women. Her incisive essays and passionate poetry-alive with sensuality, vulnerability, and rage-remain indelible contributions to intersectional feminism, queer theory, and critical race studies. This essential reader showcases twelve landmark essays and more than sixty poems, selected and introduced by one of our most powerful contemporary voices on race and gender, Roxane Gay. The essays include "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House," "I Am Your Sister," and excerpts from the National Book Award-winning A Burst of Light. The poems are drawn from Lorde's nine volumes, including National Book Award nominee The Land Where Other People Live. As Gay writes in her astute introduction, The Selected Works of Audre Lorde celebrates "an exemplar of public intellectualism who is as relevant in this century as she was in the last.""-- Provided by publisher.
S O S : Poems 1961-2013 by Amiri Baraka
Fusing the personal and the political in high-voltage verse, Amiri Baraka, "whose long illumination of the black experience in America was called incandescent in some quarters and incendiary in others" (New York Times), was one of the preeminent literary innovators of the past century. Selected by Paul Vangelisti, this volume comprises the fullest spectrum of Baraka's rousing, revolutionary poems, from his first collection to previously unpublished pieces composed during his final years. --From the publisher
We're On : A June Jordan Reader edited by Christoph Keller & Jan Heller Levi
"Poet, activist, and essayist June Jordan is a prolific, significant American writer who pushed the limits of political vision and moral witness, traversing a career of over forty years. With poetry, prose, letters, and more, this reader is a key resource for understanding the scope, complexity, and novelty of this pioneering Black American writer. From "Poem about Police Violence": Tell me something what you think would happen if everytime they kill a black boy then we kill a cop everytime they kill a black man then we kill a cop you think the accident rate would lower subsequently?. I lose consciousness of ugly bestial rabid and repetitive affront as when they tell me 18 cops in order to subdue one man 18 strangled him to death in the ensuing scuffle (don't you idolize the diction of the powerful: subdue and scuffle my oh my) and that the murder that the killing of Arthur Miller on a Brooklyn street was just a "justifiable accident" again (again) People been having accidents all over the globe so long like that I reckon that the only suitable insurance is a gun"-- Provided by publisher.
The Collected Poems Of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010 combines all eleven of Lucille Clifton's published collections with more than fifty previously unpublished poems. The unpublished poems feature early poems from 1965–1969, a collection-in-progress titled the book of days (2008), and a poignant selection of final poems. An insightful foreword by Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison and comprehensive afterword by noted poet Kevin Young frames Clifton's lifetime body of work, providing the definitive statement about this major America poet's career. On February 13, 2010, the poetry world lost one of its most distinguished members with the passing of Lucille Clifton. In the last year of her life, she was named the first African American woman to receive the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize honoring a US poet whose "lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition," and was posthumously awarded the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement from the Poetry Society of America. --From the publisher
New And Collected Poems, 1964-2006 by Ishmael Reed
One of the founding fathers of multi-cultural studies, award-winning writer Ishmael Reed first came to the attention of the literary world as a poet, and despite success as a novelist, playwright, essayist, and recording artist, has never ceased to be a poet. He delves into spiritual and political waters with his own unexpected and uniquely powerful voice. New and Collected Poems, 1966-2006 captures four decades of Reed's inimitable verse, a visionary journey from Chattanooga to New York, from Africa to Oakland. In language that is pointed, innovative, and profound, Reed weaves politics and war with Yoruba and Jazz, and takes on American culture, from prejudice to Pepsi to George W. Bush. In this important and long-awaited volume -- the first poetry collection from the MacArthur fellow in nearly twenty years -- one of America's most esteemed and intrepid poets, whose "Beware Do Not Read This Poem" has been cited by Gale Research as one of about 20 poems most frequently studied in literature courses, shows why Reed has helped define our cultural forefront from the '60s to today. --From the publisher
Make Me Rain : Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni
One of America’s most celebrated poets challenges us with this powerful and deeply personal collection of verse that speaks to the injustices of society while illuminating the depths of her own heart. For more than fifty years, Nikki Giovanni’s poetry has dazzled and inspired readers. As sharp and outspoken as ever, she returns with this profound book of poetry in which she continues to call attention to injustice and racism, celebrate Black culture and Black lives, and and give readers an unfiltered look into her own experiences. In Make Me Rain, she celebrates her loved ones and unapologetically declares her pride in her Black heritage, while exploring the enduring impact of the twin sins of racism and white nationalism. Giovanni reaffirms her place as a uniquely vibrant and relevant American voice with poems such as “I Come from Athletes” and “Rainy Days”—calling out segregation and Donald Trump; as well as “Unloved (for Aunt Cleota)” and “”When I Could No Longer”—her personal elegy for the relatives who saved her from an abusive home life. Stirring, provocative, and resonant, the poems in Make Me Rain pierce the heart and nourish the soul. --From the publisher
Hard Times Require Furious Dancing : New Poems by Alice Walker
I was born to grow,
alongside my garden of plants,
So writes Alice Walker in this new book of poems, poems composed over the course of one year in response to joy and sorrow both personal and global: the death of loved ones, war, the deliciousness of love, environmental devastation, the sorrow of rejection, greed, poverty, and the sweetness of home. The poems embrace our connections while celebrating the joy of individuality, the power we each share to express our truest, deepest selves. Beloved for her ability to speak her own truth in ways that speak for and about countless others, she demonstrates that we are stronger than our circumstances. As she confronts personal and collective challenges, her words dance, sing, and heal. --From the publisher
No Surrender by Ai
A master of the dramatic monologue in her last book, Ai, who died in March 2010, dives into the minds and memories of a diverse array of characters, both fictional and non. The characters include Elizabeth Custer, the outspoken wife of the general in the Civil War; a young man who is raped by his roommate after a graduation celebration turns to debauchery; Manesh, a scholar of philosophy from New Delhi who is nearly suffocating in a box aboard ship, smuggling himself to America. Despite their differences, these characters all channel Ai's own voice and concerns. In "Fatherhood," a part-Irish woman fantasizes about fitting in at an Irish street fair. "The Hunt" involves an interracial marriage with a prominent woman named Florence. Several of the poems explore the speakers' troubled relationship to others-mainly family: "We fathers, sons brothers, uncles, and husbands,/ Confused and Sputtering into our glasses, Paralyzed by what passes for living/ In the age of terror and misgiving." This book makes a powerful conclusion to an important poet's career. --Publishers Weekly
From its inception in California in 1974 to its highly acclaimed critical success at Joseph Papp's Public Theater and on Broadway, the Obie Award-winning for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf has excited, inspired, and transformed audiences all over the country. Passionate and fearless, Shange's words reveal what it is to be of color and female in the twentieth century. First published in 1975 when it was praised by The New Yorker for "encompassing...every feeling and experience a woman has ever had," for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf will be read and performed for generations to come. Here is the complete text, with stage directions, of a groundbreaking dramatic prose poem written in vivid and powerful language that resonates with unusual beauty in its fierce message to the world. --From the publisher
Collected Poems : 1974--2004 by Rita Dove
Rita Dove’s Collected Poems 1974–2004 showcases the wide-ranging diversity that earned her a Pulitzer Prize, the position of U.S. poet laureate, a National Humanities Medal, and a National Medal of Art. Gathering thirty years and seven books, this volume compiles Dove’s fresh reflections on adolescence in The Yellow House on the Corner and her irreverent musings in Museum. She sets the moving love story of Thomas and Beulah against the backdrop of war, industrialization, and the civil right struggles. The multifaceted gems of Grace Notes, the exquisite reinvention of Greek myth in the sonnets of Mother Love, the troubling rapids of recent history in On the Bus with Rosa Parks, and the homage to America’s kaleidoscopic cultural heritage in American Smooth all celebrate Dove’s mastery of narrative context with lyrical finesse. With the “precise, singing lines” for which the Washington Post praised her, Dove “has created fresh configurations of the traditional and the experimental” (Poetry magazine). --From the publisher