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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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Trouble the Water pays tribute to the creative genius of black folk

who have made a tradition of sound and uncommon sense. This anthology honors

 their insisting that music and speech be fused into a poetry




Books by Jerry W. Ward  Jr.

Trouble the Water (1997) / Black Southern Voices (1992) / The Richard Wright Encyclopedia (2008)  / The Katrina Papers

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Review, Introduction, Table of Contents

Trouble the Water: 250 years of African-American Poetry


Edited by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.


The haunting refrain of the anonymous spiritual "Were You Dere?" the classic rhymes of Frances Ellen Watkin's Harper's "Bury Me in a Free Land," the jazz beat of Maya Angelou's "Times-Square-Shoeshine-Composition," and the exquisite balance of Etheridge Knight's haikusthe entire rich and varied tradition of African-American poetry appears in this superb anthology, unified throughout by the authenticity of experiences wrung straight from the soul.

Trouble the Water, the first collection to cover close to 300 years of poetic achievement in 400 important works African American Writers, features women as half the contributors and includes nearly 50 poems from the 1980s and 1990s. It bears witness to the beautiful and compelling contribution of African-American poetry to American literature. The familiar verses of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Robert Haydn, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Nikki Giovanni are part of a national treasure, and the exciting poems of writers such as Wanda Coleman, Yusef Komunyakaa, Michael S. Harper, and Pulitzer prizewinner Rita Dove. Let us hear a new generation ringing out the cadence of a great heritage once more.—Backcover of book

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Like the origins of poetry throughout the world, the beginnings of African-American poetry are in speech and song. This fact is of no small consequence. Primacy of the oral and the aural forces us to be active in imagining just how it is that peoples displaced from one part of the world and reassembled in another created a distinctive body of poetry. What is primal about its origins and strongly marked in its continuity as a tradition suggests the value of listening to the poetry as carefully as we read it silently. Listen. The beginning of African-American poetry is the sound of Africans in the complex process of becoming Americans. Those historical moments of transformation are inflected with resistance, the trauma of loss, adaptation, cross-fertilizing, and synthesis.

An African-American poetics emerges from the détente of African languages and cultures with themselves first, and then with encountered European languages and cultures. The initial New World points of becoming (which includes the Afro-Asiatic) remain in deep waters beyond salvage. Nevertheless, the links of African-American poetry to its mixed ancestry recurs in black American oral traditions, in the early inscription of Lucy Terry, Jupiter Hamon, Phillis Wheatley, and George Moses Horton; it is to be heard in the sorrow songs, sacred music, blues, and jazz, the penchant for return to African sources, among some early and late twentieth-century poets. 

You hear the ancient links in rap’s musical levels. As Eugene Redmond reminds us in Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (1976) we obviously do not know the precise time “when the first African sounds or movements were incorporated into ‘white’ or Western frames of reference or vice versa; but we do know that it did happen.”

Trouble the Water pays tribute to the creative genius of black folk who have made a tradition of sound and uncommon sense. This anthology honors their insisting that music and speech be fused into a poetry for exploring, coming to know, creating delight and instruction, praising and criticizing, remembering and transforming, and meeting, in the early years of this century, and odd demand: proof of civilization. African-American poetry moves into the new public spheres of the twenty-first century. It absorbs the pre-future of now. It is worthwhile to rediscover how it evolved. It is obligatory to remember it comes from a tradition that, in the words of Margaret Walker, has “remained singularly faithful to the living truth of the human spirit.”  

Wade in de water, children

Wade in de water, children

God’s agwinter trouble de water.  

This book is indebted to The Poetry of the Negro, 1746–1949 [1949], edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps and to Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets (1971), models for a difficult enterprise. These collections sought to provide a comprehensive survey of African-American poetic expression. It is easy to survey. It is hard to be comprehensive. Anthologies will not accommodate everything worthy of inclusion, and the fact that no survey of more than two hundred and fifty years of poetry can be definitive is one an editor must accept. 

Recent anthologies which focus mainly on twentieth-century work—most notably Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka’s In the Tradition (1992), Michael Harper and Anthony Walton’s Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep (1994) and Clarence Major’s The Garden Thrives (1996)—illustrate how the body of poetry that should be read grows larger by the decade. 

There will always be gaps in representation. Why poet X not included? Why were poems k, l, and m not reprinted? Well, the permission fee for work by poet X far exceeded the editor’s modest budget. Perhaps poems k, l, and m had been frequently anthologized, and the space was assigned to less well-known poets and poems. At best, the editor can only hope an anthology provides work that has both historical importance and aesthetic appeal, that an anthology succeeds in being a useful resources for the study of literature and culture.

In compiling Trouble the Water, I was strongly aware that disputes about how to read, how to read a poem, and how to theorize about literary works as features of cultures trouble the contests to open or close the American mind. Moreover, I wanted the collection to be useful to a broad audience: general readers, younger readers who still have the capacity to experience the magic of language, and students and teachers not yet initiated into the priestly prejudices of the academy.

It was very important to consider that in the second edition of The Poetry of the Negro (1970), Arna Bontemps has suggested the poems of the 1960s should be the answers to questions about the “thoughts and feelings of an aroused folk in a time of trouble.” Bontemps was hinting the kind of poetry he and Hughes had included in the first edition was within “the literary traditions of the language that it employs.” Poetic works marked by a strong racial idiom (folk seculars, spirituals, blues) were considered outside those literary traditions and were excluded.

For Dudley Randall, on the other hand, poetry that might awaken readers from aesthetic tranquility was very much inside the African-American and American literary traditions. He included such work in The Black Poets. Trouble the Water is conceptually closer to Randall’s design than Bontemps’. Before one canonizes on the literary/extraliterary axis, it seems desirable to represent the variety and difference that actually does exit. Otherwise, one makes trivial the possibility that variety is a crucial feature of our national literature, or that poets at various times address their works to diverse implied audiences.

The manner in which time has been used in structuring this anthology deserves a brief comment. Many anthologies of African-American literature have used such normative categories as eighteenth-century beginnings, the struggle against slavery, the rise of the New Negro, the Harlem Renaissance, the protest years, the Black Arts Movement, and the postmodern to suggest turning points in the growth of literature. This procedure is quite legitimate. It establishes paradigms for the study of literature. But poets are subversive. They may or may not write works that conform to the dominant ideas of a period. Their works may defy convenient periodicity.

To encourage richer creative and critical responses to the making of the African-American poetic tradition, I have organized the works to emphasize fruitful tensions between poets and history or between individual talents and a narrative always awaiting revisions. Within each section, care has been taken to organize the poems according to the birth dates of the poets. Since poets do not always write or publish in their early years, in a few instances, poets who came to public notice later in life may be distanced from their contemporaries. This should remind us that many poets are productive over years that span the divisions. It was tempting to want to organize all the poems by publication dates, but so radical a move would have created unnecessary confusions.

Part I (“Oral Poetry/Slave creations”) marks off a time when works were most often anonymous, when the texts chosen can only represent the “spirit” of a time prior to their being recorded. Part II (“Voices Before Freedom, 1746–1865”) draws attention to the poets as enslaved people or free people of color, the acceptance of prevailing modes of writing poetry or some effort to be innovative within accepted forms. The past does impinge upon the present.

Readers should bring forward the poetry in Part I for comparison with the self-consciously formal works that yearn for emancipation in Part II. Part III (“Voices of Reconstruction, 1865–1910”) emphasizes the poetic voice as a bridge between the late nineteenth-century obligation to deal with an immediate slave past in the same moment it wishes to address the promises of a twentieth-century future. The problem of finding the “right” language for poetry complements DuBois’s famed “problem of the color line.” It is most poignantly “represented” in the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar and finds temporary resolution in the work of James Weldon Johnson.

The voices in Part IV (“The Early Twentieth Century, 1910–1960”) begin with Johnson, whose magisterial introduction to The Book of American Negro Poetry (1921) still deserves study for what it says about poetic language and emotion, turn of thought, and the demands of conventions. Johnson set forth the possibility of creating new forms “which will still hold the racial flavor.” The poetic forms that embody the intellectual, artistic, and social concerns of African Americans up to the turbulent 1960s are stunning in magnitude, variety, and quality.

William Stanley Braithwaite and Countee Cullen use language to register ambivalence about the “rightness” of modernist experimentation. Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Melvin B. Tolson, and especially Langston Hughes experiment daringly; indeed, Hughes’s use of blues and jazz to inform poetic sites of memory is prototypical for the later activity of Bob Kaufman, Ted Joans, and the Beat poets. Anne Spenser, Arna Bontemps, Mary Miller, and Naomi Long Madgett revitalize the expressive potential of lyric. Sterling Brown, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Robert Hayden demonstrate that modernist poetic techniques as well as respect for folk heritage and history are essential in creating art from the raw complexities of African-American life.

The penultimate section, Part V (“Voices for a New Age”) begins with the voice of Elma Stuckey, whom E. D. Hirsch noted is one of “the authentic American poets of our century.” Her poetry is resonant with concern for history, orality, and the subtle recrafting that enable us, according to Stephen E. Henderson, to “hear the voices of the people who created the spirituals and blues.” The section ends with the recycling voice of Charlie Braxton, who celebrates the necessity o “iambic & trochaic pentameter” to evoke anguish and beauty for those

just a few generations removed

from the chains that bind the flesh

but not the spirit.

We circle back to the poetic work of oral creation, back to Toomer’s observation that “one seed becomes/An everlasting song” for the new age and its new voices. Within the historicizing frame of Stuckey and Braxton are the disruptive affirmations of Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Muhammad Touré, Ishmael Reed, Sarah Webster Fabio, Haki Madhubuti, and other pioneers of the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic revolution in African-American poetic tradition. Aesthetic revolution in African-American poetic tradition.

Here also is the tradition-conserving work of Mari Evans, Lance Jeffers, Eugene Redmond, Kenneth McClane, Quincy Troupe, Lucille Clifton, Kalamu ya Salaam, Henry Dumas, Carolyn Rodgers, and Sterling D. Plumpp; the distinguished omni-American artistry of Ntozake Shange, Michael Harper, Wanda Coleman, Rita Dove, Harryette Mullen, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Trouble the Water seeks to represent poetic voices moving across the categories and boundaries of more than two centuries, calling and responding both in the private spaces of racialized imperative and in the public spaces of the human necessity we call art.

As the narrator of Invisible Man reminds us, history is neither a horizontal nor a vertical line. It is a boomerang. This metaphor has its own invisibility in the continuing evolution of African-American poetry. Giving a judicious hearing to the sounds and formal achievements of the tradition requires being prepared for the boomerang’s return. Trouble the Water is a sampling of poems (texts) that can be examined for what they reveal about the multiple, necessary, and highly valued functions of African-American art in cultural histories. 

For those who would continue to ask the tautologous question “IS THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN POEM A WORK OF ART OR A WORK OF EVIDENCE?,” Trouble the Water is the answer. And for helping me to put it in your hands, I am very grateful to Lawrence Jordan, Rosemary Ahern, Kari Paschall, and Kenny Fountain.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

Memphis, Tennessee

August 20, 1996

Ward, Jr., Jerry W., editor. Trouble the Water.  New York: Penguin Group. February, 1997.

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Dr. Ward's book is the best in its class since Langston Hughes' and Arna Bontemps' THE POETRY OF THE NEGRO. The volume is a must for every high school and college in the country. This book is so beautifully organized that it becomes more than a cronology of African American poetry, but a history of Blacks in the United States through poetry. Dr. Ward has left no one out who deserves to be heard, and has wisely included several brilliant, often neglected, Southern poets. If the publishers of this book realize what a goldmind it is, they would see to it that it is placed in every school and library in the country must for every high school and college, January 19, 1998.Chakula

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Introduction by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.,


I. Oral Poetry / Slave Creations



Mistah Rabbit


Raise a Ruckus Tonight




Mary, Don You Weep


When-a Mah Blood Runs Chilly an Col


Soon One Mawnin


Nobody Knows da Trubble Ah See


Were You Dere?


Do, Lawd


II. Voices Before Freedom (1746–1865)

Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753–1784)
On Virtue


To the University of Cambridge, in New-England


On Being Brought from Africa to America


On Imagination


To His Excellency General Washington


Jupiter Hammon (1711–1806)
An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly [sic], Ethiopian Poetess


George Moses Horton (c. 1797–c.1883)
To Eliza




George Moses Horton, Myself


On Liberty and Slavery


The Slave


Snaps for Dinner, Snaps for Breakfast and Snaps for Supper


Daniel A. Payne (1811–1893)
The Mournful Lute or the Preceptor’s Farewell


Ann Plato (c. 1820–?)
To the First of August


Advice to Young Ladies


James M. Whitfield (1823–1878)
Stanzas for the First of August


To Cinque


The North Star


Les Cennelles (1845)
B. Valcour, “A Malvina”


Nelson Desbrosses, “Le Retour au Village aux Perles”


Armand Lanusse, “Un Frère”


———, “Les Carnaval”


Camille Thierry, “Adieu”


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911)
The Slave Mother


Advice to the Girls


Bury Me in a Free Land


The Dying Fugitive




The Martyr of Alabama


Songs for the People


III. V oices of Reconstruction (1865–1910)

Albery A. Whitman (1851–1901)
The Lute of Afric’s Tribe


Henrietta Cordelia Ray (1849–1916)
To My Father




James Edwin Campbell (1867–1896)  
Ol’ Doc’ Hyar


De Cunjah Man


Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr. (1861–1949)  
The Way-side Well


James David Corrothers (1869–1917) 
At the Closed Gate of Justice


In the Matter of Two Men



Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872–1906)  
An Ante-Bellum Sermon,


Ode to Ethiopia


A Negro Love Song


When de Co’n Pone’s Hot


We Wear the Mask






IV. The Early Twentieth Century (1910–1960)  

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)  
The Creation


Lift Every Voice and Sing


The White Witch


O Black and Unknown Bards


William Stanley Braithwaite (1878–1962) 
Del Cascar






Angelina Weld Grimké (1880–1958)  
Grass Fingers


A Mona Lisa


The Black Finger


Anne Spencer (1882–1975)  
At the Carnival


Letter to My Sister


Georgia Douglas Johnson (1886–1966)  
The Heart of a Woman,


I Want to Die While You Love Me




The Riddle


Fenton Johnson (1888–1958)  
The Banjo Player




Who Is That A-Walking in the Corn?


Claude McKay   (1889–1948)  
Harlem Shadows


If We Must Die






The White House


Jean Toomer (1894–1967)  
Song of the Son


Georgia Dusk


Imprint for Rio Grande


Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr. (1895–1919)  
The Band of Gideon


Is It Because I Am Black?


Rain Music


Melvin B. Tolson (1898–1966) 


Uncle Rufus


Madame Alpha Devine


May Miller (1899–1995)  
Calvary Way


The Wrong Side of the Morning


The Scream


Where Is the Guilt


Marcus B. Christian (1900–1976)  
Selassie at Geneva 


“Go Down, Moses!” 


The Craftsman


Sterling A. Brown (1901–1989)  
Southern Road


Ma Rainey


Strong Men






Clarissa Scott Delany (1901–1927)  
The Mask




Langston Hughes (1902–1967)  
The Negro Speaks of Rivers


Mother to Son


Theme for English B


Arna Bontemps (1902–1973)  
A Black Man Thinks of Reaping


Nocturne at Bethesda


Golgotha Is a Mountain


Gwendolyn Bennett (1902–1981)  


Countee Cullen  (1903–1946)  


From the Dark Tower


Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song


Karenge Ya Marenge


Jonathan Henderson Brooks (1904–1945)  
The Resurrection


The Last Quarter Moon of the Dying Year


Frank Marshall Davis (1905–1960)  
Robert Whitmore


Arthur Ridgewood, M.D


Giles Johnson, Ph.D.


Duke Ellington


Little and Big


Richard Wright  (1908–1960)  
I Have Seen Black Hands


Between the World and Me


Red Clay Blues


Robert Hayden (1913–1980)  
Homage to the Empress of the Blues


Runagate Runagate


Frederick Douglass


O Daedalus, Fly Away Home


Owen Dodson (1914-1983)  
The Signifying Darkness


Poem for Pearl’s Dancers


Margaret Walker  (1915–  )  
For My People


We Have Been Believers,




Amos, 1963


Ballard of the Hoppy-Toad


Harriet Tubman


I Hear a Rumbling . . .


Margaret Esse Danner (1915–1984)  
And Through the Caribbean Sea


This Is an African Worm


Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–  )
The Mother


my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell


What shall I give my children?


First fight. Then fiddle.


The Egg Boiler,


Malcolm X


To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals


The Near-Johannesburg Boy,


Kojo “I Am a Black” 


Ulysses “Religion” 


Merle “Uncle Seagram”


Samuel Allen (1917–  )  
To Satch


Harriet Tubman


From Paul Vesey’s Ledger


“As King grew cold on a Memphis slab”


“Malcolm gave a choice” 


Naomi Long Madgett (1923–  )  






Exits and Entrances




V. Voices for a New Age—1960s/1970s  

Elma Stuckey (1907–1988)  
Long Cotton Row


The Big Gate




Southern Belle


This Is It


Let Them Come






Ribbons and Lace


Dudley Randall (1914–  )  
Roses and Revolutions


Legacy: My South


Coral Atoll


Lance Jeffers (1919–1985)
My Blackness Is the Beauty of This Land


When I Know the Power of My Black Hand




On Listening to the Spirituals


O Africa, Where I Baked My Bread


But I Know That Unseen Anger Runs a Raft




Mari Evans (1923–  )  
I Am a Black Woman


Where Have You Gone


Speak the Truth to the People


The Writers


Who Can Be Born Black


Pinkie Gordon Lane (1923–  )  
A Quiet Poem


Midnight Song


To a Woman Poet That I Know


Elegy for Etheridge


Bob Kaufman (1925–1986)  
Bird with Painted Wings


Would You Wear My Eyes?


To My Son Parker, Asleep in the Next Room


[The Night That Lorca Comes]


Maya Angelou (1928–  )  
No Loser, No Weeper


When I Think About Myself




Ted Joans (1928–  )  
Jazz Is My Religion


Customs & Culture?


Sarah Webster Fabio (1928–1979)  
Of Puddles, Worms, Slimy Thins (A Hoodoo Nature Poem)


God’s Trombone


I Would Be For You Rain


A Tree Is a Landscape: A Landscape Is a Point of View


To Turn from Love


Evil Is No Black Thing


The Hurt of It All


Raymond R. Patterson (1929–  )  
At That Moment


Birmingham 1963


A Song Waiting for Music


To a Weathercock


Alvin Aubert (1930–  )  
All Singing in a Pie


The Revolutionary


Spring 1937/for Honoré Roussell


One More Time


Nat Turner in the Clearing


Etheridge Knight (1931–1991)  
The Idea of Ancestry


Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane


Belly Song


A Poem of Attrition


Haiku Nos. 1–9


Tom Dent (1932–  )  
Nightdreams (Black)


Time Is a Motor


St. Helena Island


Ten Years After Umbra


Secret Messages


Calvin Hernton (1932–  )  
The Distant Drum


Medicine Man


Gerald Barrax (1933–  )  
For a Black Poet




Whose Children Are These?


Audre Lorde (1934–1992)  




Sonia Sanchez (1934–  )  
Poem No. 10


young womanhood


I Have Walked a Long Time




elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia


Amiri Baraka (1934–  )  
The End of Man Is His Beauty


Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note


As a Possible Lover


Black Dada Nihilismus


Black People: This Is Our Destiny


Henry L. Dumas  (1935–1968)  
Son of Msippi


Tis of Thee


Ahmos Zu-Bolton II (1935–  )  
sunset beach


the seeker


Sister Blues with Livewire Davis


Struggle-Road Dance


intro to my final book of poems


Ain’t No Spring Chicken


Lucille Clifton (1936–  )  
in the inner city




last note to my girls


i once knew a man




Clarence Major (1936–  )  
The Cotton Club


In the Interest of Personal Appearance


Jayne Cortez (1936–  )  
Do You Think


Rose Solitude


If the Drum Is a Woman


June Jordan (1936–  )  
Poem about The Head of a Negro


A Song of Sojourner Truth


Sunflower Sonnet Number One


Sunflower, Sonnet Number Two


I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies


Eugene Redmond (1937–  )  




Autumn God


His Eminence Plays the Soular System


Larry Neal (1937–1981)  
Poppa Stoppa Speaks from His Grave


Don’t Say Goodbye to the Porkpie Hat


Malcolm X—An Autobiography


Ishmael Reed (1938–  )  
I am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra




Sky Diving


The Reactionary Poet


Points of View


Askia Muhammad Touré (1938–  )  


Rebellion Suite/Straight. No Chaser


Julia Fields (1938–  )  
High on the Hog




Michael S. Harper (1938–  )  
Dear John, Dear Coltrane


Prayer: Mt. Hood and Environs




The Militance in the Photograph in the Passbook of a Bantu under Detention


Al Young (1939–  )  
The Song Turning Back Into Itself 2


The Blues Don’t Change


Yes, the Secret Mind Whispers


Nayo Barbara Malcolm Watkins (1940–  )  
Black Woman Throws a Tantrum


Do You Know Me?


Missions and Magnolias


Sterling D. Plumpp (1940–  )  
Black Ethics


Half Black, Half Blacker




Sanders Bottom


Mississippi Griot 




Haki R. Madhubuti (1942–  )  
The Black Christ


In a Period of Growth


Big Momma


We Walk the Way of the New World


a poem to complement other poems


Killing Memory


First World


David Henderson (1942–  )  
Do Nothing till You Hear from Me


Burgundy Street


Egyptian Book of the Dead


Quincy Troupe (1943–  )  
The Syntax of the Mind Grips


It Is Not


My Poems Have Holes Sewn into Them


Nikki Giovanni (1943–  )  
For Saundra




My Poem


Alice Walker (1944–  )  


For My Sister Molly Who in the Fifties


Be Nobody’s Darling


Lorenzo Thomas (1944–  )  
Rhumba Negro


Onion Bucket




My Office


They Never Lose


Carolyn Rodgers (1945–  )  
how i got ovah




and when the revolution came


A Brief Synopsis




Kalamu ya Salaam (1947–  )  

Iron Flowers


Still Life, Stealing Life / Caught Red-Handed


We Have Been Seen


Bush Mama


Danny Barker/Danny Banjo


George Barlow (1948–  )  


Ntozake Shange (1948–  )  


on becoming successful


elegance in the extreme


Kenneth A. McClane (1951–  )  


To Hear the River


Song: A Motion of History


The Black Intellectual


VI. Voices for a New Age—1980s/1990s  

Collen McElroy (1935–  )  
While Poets Are Watching


Cutting a Road from Manaus to Belém


Why Tu Fu Does Not Speak of the Nubian


Sybil Kein (1939–  )  
Fragments from the Diary of Amelie Patiné 
Quadroon Mistress of Monsieur JacquesR


Letter to Madame Lindé from Justine, Her Creole Servant




Jelly Roll Morton


Virgia Brocks-Shedd (1943–1992)  
Southern Roads/City Pavement


Houston A. Baker, Jr. (1943–  )  
No matter where you travel


Late-Winter Blues and Promises of Love


This Is Not a Poem


Wanda Coleman (1946–  )  
Doing Battle with the Wolf


Word Game


Las turistas negras grande


Julius E. Thompson (1946–  )  
Song of Innocence


In My Mind’s Eye


The Devil’s Music in Hell


Yusef Komunyakaa (1947–  )  
Lost Wax


Villon / Leadbelly




Tu Do Street


Kiarri T-H. Cheatwood  
Visions of the Sea




Swamp Rat


E. Ethelbert Miller (1950–  )  


Spanish Conversation


Sweet Honey in the Rock




a walk in the daytime is just as dangerous as a walk in the night


Quo Vadis Gex-Breaux (1950–  )  
Willie Note 9/28/91


Blue Deep


Angela Jackson (1951–  )  
a beginning for a new beginnings


Why I Must Make Language


Rita Dove (1952–  )  






Lenard D. Moore (1958–  )  
A Poem for Langston Hughes


Message to Etheridge Knight


Haiku “Sipping the new tea” 


“Summer evening sun” 


“a black woman” 


“Winter stillness” 


Harryette Mullen (1960–  )  
Momma Sayings


Floorwax Mother


Bête Noire




Charlie R. Braxton (1961–  )  
Jazzy St. Walk


Say Hey Homeboy


Contributors’ Notes




Contributor's Notes

Allen, Samuel (1917-    )

Allen, who spent many years abroad, published some of his early poetry in Presence Africaine, and his collection Effenbein Zähne (1956) was published in Germany. He has served as an associate professor of law at Texas Southern University, writer-in-residence at Tuskegee, and professor of English and Afro-American Literature at Boston University. Allen's books include Ivory Tusks and Other Poems (1968), Paul Vesey's Ledger (1975), and Every Round and Other Poems (1987).

Angelou, Maya (1928-    )

The first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Angelou gained national attention with the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). Her substantial body of work in poetry and prose includes Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie (1971), And Still I Rise (1978), The Heart of a Woman (1981), I Shall Not Be Moved (1990), The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994), and Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women (1995).

Aubert, Alvin (1930-    )

Founder of the magazine OBSIDIAN, Aubert served for many years as Professor of English at Wayne State University. His first collection, Against the Blues, was published by Broadside Press in 1972. His most recent collections of poems are If Winter Comes: Collected Poems, 1967-1992 (1994) and Harlem Wrestler and Other Poems (1995).

Baker Houston A., Jr. (1943-     )

professor of English and Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations at the University of Pennsylvania, Baker is a leading theorist of African-American literature and culture. Among his many publications are Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature (1984), Afro-American Poetics (1988), and Rap and the Academy (1993), and three volumes of poetry: No Matter Where You Travel, You Shall Be Black (1979), Spirit Run (1982), and Blues Journey Home (1985).

Baraka, Amiri [LeRoi Jones] (1934-    )

One of the chief proponents of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s. Baraka is a poet, essayist, playwright, music and social critic, and fiction writer whose work continues to influence the production of African-American literature. In 1968 he co-edited the groundbreaking anthology Black Fire with Larry Neal. He has written seven nonfiction books and fifteen volumes of poetry, the most recent being Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995).

Barlow, George (1948-    )

A professor of English and American Studies at Grinnell. Barlow is the author of Gumbo (1981), a volume chosen for publication in the National Poetry Series. His first collection, Gabriel, was published by Broadside Press in 1974.

Barrax, Gerald (1933-    )

A professor of English at North Carolina State University and editor of OBSIDIAN II: Black Literature in Review. Barrax is the recipient of a Callaloo Creative Writing Award in Nonfiction Prose. He has written Another Kind of Rain (1970), An Audience of One (1980), The Death of Animals and Lesser Gods (1984), and Leaning Against the Sun (1992)

Bennett, Gwendolyn (1902-    )

Though she never published a collection of her own work, Bennett's poems have appeared in several prominent anthologies: Caroling Dusk (1927), Singers in the Dawn (1934), The Poetry of the Negro, 1946-1970): An Anthology (1970), and The Poetry of Black America: Anthology of the Twentieth Century (1973).

Bontemps, Arna (1902-1973)

Poet, biographer, novelist, editor, and librarian, Bontemps, like Langston Hughes, devoted much of his time to shaping how African-American poetry would be discussed in the future. Bontemps's early poems appeared in Crisis and Opportunity. "Golgotha Is a Mountain" won the Alexander Pushkin Award for Poetry in 1926. The following year, "Nocturne at Bethesda" won first prize in the Crisis poetry competition. Bontemps did not publish his book of poems, Personals, until 1963.

Braithwaite, William Stanley (1878-1962)

The founder of the B.J. Brimmer Publishing Co., Braithwaite is better known as an editor than as a poet. He edited the Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry from 1913 to 1929. Braithwaite's books include The House of Falling Leaves (1902), Sandy Star (1926), Selected Poems (1948), and The Bewitched Parsonage: The Story of the Brontes (19500. The William Stanley Braithwaite Reader was published in 1972.

Braxton, Charlie R. (1961-    )

A poet, playwright, and freelance journalist who lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Braxton's first poetry collection is ascension from the ashes (19900. His work appears in numerous magazines and in the anthologies In the Tradition (1992), and Soulfires (1996).

Brocks-Shedd, Virgia (1943-1992)

A librarian, Brocks-Shedd was strongly influenced by Margaret walker, her teacher at Jackson State College, and later by Alice Walker and Audre Lorde. Her poetry appeared in the chapbooks Mississippi Woods (1980) and Mississippi Earthworks (1982), and in Mississippi Writers, Vol. III (1988)

Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917-    )

A Street in Bronzeville (1945), her first book of poems, brought Brooks's works to national attention. She won a Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen (1949). Brooks is respected for her precise language, technical facility, and special perspectives on everyday life. In 1968, she was named Poet Laureate of Illinois. She received an award for outstanding achievement in literature from the Black Academy of Arts and letters in 1976, and was named Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress (1985-1986). Among her many books of poetry are The Bean Eaters (1960), Selected Poems (1963), In the Mecca (1968), Riot (19690, Family Pictures (1970, To Disembark (1981), Blacks (1987), The Near Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1987), Children Coming Home (1991).

Brooks, Jonathan Henderson (1904-1945)

Born near Lexington, Mississippi, brooks was a 1930 graduate of Tougaloo College and a minister. Some of his poems were anthologized in Caroling Dusk (1927) edited by Countee Cullen, and in The Negro Caravan (1941). During his college years and in the three years he served as assistant to Tougaloo's president, Brooks encouraged students to engage in dramatic activities and writing. His collection The Resurrection and Other Poems was published posthumously in 1948

Brown, Sterling Allen (1901-1989)

A native of Washington, D.C., Brown taught for many years at Howard University. His first book of poems, Southern Road, was published in 1932, and his poems were featured in many anthologies. As a poet, Brown gave careful attention to the nuances of speech and reproduced them superbly in his poems. His second collection, The Last ride of Wild Bill, was published in 1975. He won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (1980). Brown's other works include The Negro in American Fiction (1937) and Negro Poetry and Drama (1937). he was also co-editor of the landmark anthology The Negro Caravan (1941).

Campbell, James Edwin (1867-1896)

The first president of the West Virginia Colored Institute (now West Virginia State University), Campbell served on the staff of the Pioneer (a887), a black newspaper. A contributor to The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922) and The Negro Caravan (1941), Campbell's own books include Driftings and Gleanings (1887) and Echoes from the Cabin and Elsewhere (1895).

Cheatwood, Kiarria T-H

A poet, novelist, and critic, Cheatwood lives in Richmond, Virginia. He is the author of the poetry collection Valley of the Anointers (1979), Psalms of Redemption (1983), Elegies for Patrice (1984), and Bloodstorm (1986), and the novels Seeds of Consistency, Fruits of Life (1990) and A Life on an April Canvas (1992).

Christian, Marcus B. (1900-1976)

A native of Louisiana, Christian served as supervisor of the Dillard University Negro History Unit of the Federal Writers' Project, worked for a time in the Dillard Library, and as poetry editor for the Louisiana Weekly. Christian's most important books are The Common People's Manifesto of World War II (1948) and Negro Iron Workers of Louisiana (1972).

Clifton, Lucille (1936-    )

Clifton is the recipient of several NEA grants and the Juniper Prize, as well as honorary degrees from the University of Maryland and Towson State University. her books include Good Times (1969), An Ordinary Woman (1974), Generations (1976), Good Woman: Poems and Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987), Quilting: Poems, 1987-1990 (1991), and Book of Light (1993). Clifton has written many books for young readers.

Coleman, Wanda (1946-    )

The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, Coleman is the author of Mad Dog Black Lady (1979), A War of Eyes and Other Stories (1988), African Sleeping Sickness: Stories and Poems (1990), American Sonnets (1994), and other works. In the late 1960s, she was writer-in-residence at Studio Watts; she has also written for television and hosted interview programs for Pacific Radio.

Corrothers, James David (1869-1917)

Corrothers worked at a lumber mill, factories, a steamboat, and a hotel before he began publishing poetry, articles, and fiction in the mid-1880s. In 1898, he became a Methodist minister and then a Baptist minister. Corrothers published one book of verse, The Black Cat Club (1902), and the autobiography, In Spite of the Handicap (1926).

Cortez, Jayne (1936-    )

The recipient of an NEA fellowship in creative writing and a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, Cortez has lectured and read her work throughout the United States, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Her Published works include Festivals and Funerals (1971), Scarifications (1973), Firespitter (1982), Coagulations: New and Selected Poems (1984), and Poetic Magnetic (1991).

Cotter, Joseph Seaman, Sr. (1861-1949)

The founder and principal of the Paul Lawrence Dunbar School, and later the principal of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor School. Cotter published several books such as A Rhyming (1895), A White Song and a Black One (1909), Collected Poems of Joseph S. Cotter, Sr. (1938), and Negroes and Others at work and Play (1947).

Cotter, Joseph Seaman, Jr. (1895-1919)

Cotter's one book of poems, The Band of Gideon and Other Lyrics (1918), identified him as a writer of great promise in the New Negro period. His one-act play On the Fields of France appeared in the Crisis (June 1920) and two series of poems were published in 1920 and 1921 issues of A.M.E. Zion Quarterly Review.

Cullen, Countee  (1903-1946)

One of the most gifted of the Harlem Renaissance poets, Cullen taught French, English, and creative writing in New York until 1945. His first collection, Color, was published in 1925. Two years later, he published Copper Sun and edited the anthology Caroling Dusk. Among his other books of poetry are The Ballad of the Brown Girl: An Old Ballad Retold (1927), The Black Christ, and Other Poems (1929), The Medea and Some Poems (1935), The Lost Zoo (1940), and a selection of his best poems in On These I Stand.

Danner, Margaret Ease (1915-1984)

The recipient of many awards for her poetry, Danner was an assistant editor of Poetry magazine (1951-57). During her tenure as writer-in-residence at Wayne State University, Danner founded Boone House, a center for writers and artists. Her books include To Flower: Poems (1963), Poem Counterpoem (1966), Iron Lace (1968), and The Down of a Thistle: Selected Poems, Prose Poems, and Songs (1976)

Davis Frank Marshall (1905-1987)

A former editor of the Atlanta Daily World, Davis also served as the executive editor of the Associated Negro Press. In 1937, he was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Foundation grant. Davis's books include Black Man's Verse (1935), I Am the American Negro (1937), Through Sepia Eyes (1938), 47th Street: Poems (1948), and Awakening , and Other Poems (1978). Livin' the Blues: Memoirs of a Black Journalist and Poet, his autobiography was published in 1993.

Delany, Clarissa Scott (1901-1927)

Delany, daughter of Emmett J. Scott, the noted secretary of Booker T. Washington, spent her early years at Tuskegee Institute and attended Wellesley College. She taught for three years at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., before her death. Some of her poems were anthologized in The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949.

Dent Thomas (1932-    )

A member of the legendary Umbra Workshop in the early 1960s, Dent served as assistant and executive director of the Free Southern Theater and later as executive director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. He is a poet, essayist, playwright, and oral historian. His writing has appeared in such magazines as Southern Exposure, Callaloo, OBSIDIAN, Freedomways, and African American Review. He was one of the editors of Free Southern Theater by the Free Southern Theater (1969) His two poetry collections are Magnolia Street (1976) and Blue Lights and River Songs (1982). His most recent book is the historical study Southern Journey: My Return to the Civil Rights Movement (1996).

Dodson, Owen (1914-1983)

Best known for his work as professor of Drama and department chair at Howard University, Dodson also served as the drama director of Spelman College and a consultant to community theater at the Harlem School of arts. The recipient of Rosenwald, Guggenheim, and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, Dodson was the author of the plays Divine Comedy (1938) and New World A-Coming: An Original Pageant of Hope (1944); the novels Boy at the Window (1951) and Come Home Early, Child (1977), and the poetry collection Powerful Long Ladder (1946).

Dove, Rita (1952-    )

Professor of English at the University of Virginia, Dove was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the volume Thomas and Beulah (1986). Among her many books of poetry are Museum (1983), Grace Notes (1989), and Mother Love: Poems (1995). Her novel Through the Ivory Gates (1992) is a fine example of how poetic sensibility might inform fiction. In 1993, Dove was named Poet Laureate of the United States, a post she held for two years.

Dumas, Henry L., (1934-1968)

The former teacher and director of language workshops for Southern Illinois University's Experiment in Higher Education, Dumas was a poet and fiction writer of extraordinary imagination. His books have been published posthumously. He was the author of Poetry for My People (1970); reprinted in 1974  as Play Ebony, Play Ivory), Ark of Bones, and Other Stories (1970), Jonoah and the Green Stone (1976), Ropes of Wind (1979), Goodbye, Sweetwater (1988), and Knees of a Natural Man (1989).

Dunbar, Paul Lawrence (1872-1906)

Dunbar was the most popular African-American poet of the late nineteenth century, lauded for the "humor and pathos" of his dialect poems and underappreciated for the quality of his work in Standard English. James Weldon Johnson gave special attention to Dunbar's dilemma in The Book of American Negro Poetry (19210. Among Dunbar's numerous collections of poems are Oak and Ivy (1893), Majors and Minors (1896), Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896), and Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1903).

Evans, Mari (1923-    )

Evans, who lives in Indianapolis, has taught at Cornell University, Spelman College, and other schools. She won a Black Academy of Arts and Letters award for I Am a Black Woman (1970). Evans has written a number of books for children and edited Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation (1985). Among her poetry collections are Night Star: Poems (1973-1978) and A Dark & Splendid Mass (1992).

Fabio, Sarah Webster (1928-1979)

A pioneer in efforts to institutionalize Black Studies in higher education. fabio was the author of the poety volumes A Mirror: A Soul (1969) and Black IS a Panther Caged (1972). In 1974, she collected all of her poems in seven volumes under the general title Rainbow Signs. Her work appeared in such anthologies as The Black Aesthetic (1971) and Understanding the New Black Poetry (1972).

Fields, Julia (1938-    )

The recipient of the seventh Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Fund Award, Fields contributed her work to such magazines as Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, and First World. Her books include I Heard A Young Man Saying (1967). A Summoning (1976), Slow Coins (1981), and The Green Lion of Zion Street (1988). Fields has served as poet-in-residence, lecturer, or instructor at several universities and colleges, including St. Augustine College, Howard University, and the University of the District of Columbia.

Gex-Breaux, Quo Vadis (1950-    )

A poet and essayist who lives and writes in New Orleans, Gex-Breaux works in development at Dillard University. Her work has appeared in local and national journals and in the anthology Life Notes (1994).

Giovanni, Nikki (1943-    )

A professor of English at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Giovanni has published several books of poetry and essays, such as Black Feeling, Black Talk/Black Judgment (1968), Ego Tripping and Other Poems for Young People (1973), Those Who Ride the Night Wind (1983), and Racism 101 (1994). National Book Award nominee for the autobiography Gemini (1971) and Ohioana Book Award recipient for Sacred Cows . . . and Other Edibles (1988), she has conducted poetry readings throughout the United States and abroad. Her important conversations with other writers are A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973) and A Poetic Equation: Conversations between Nikki Giovanni and Margaret Walker (1974).

Grimké, Angelina Weld (1880-1958)

Grimké was an active participant in the Harlem Renaissance. Though she published no collection of poems in her lifetime, Grimké did contribute her work to several anthologies, including Caroling Dusk (1927), The Negro Caravan (1941), and The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949).

Hammon, Jupiter (1711-1806)

A deeply religious slave, Hammon is better known for his suggestion that slavery was endurable in "An Address to the Negroes in the State of New York" (1786) than for his Christian verse. His poems "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penetential Cries" (1761) was the first poem published by a black man in North America.

Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins (1825-1911)

A tireless worker for the Underground Railroad and lecturer for the cause of abolition. Harper used her talents to write poetry and fiction that reveal much about how literacy functions to achieve social and aesthetic ends. Her books of poetry include Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854), Poems (1871), and Sketches of Southern Life (1872).

Harper, Michael S. (1938-    )

The director of the writing program and the I. J. Kapstein Professor of English at Brown University, Harper is the recipient of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters award for History Is Your Own Heartbreak (1971) and a Guggenheim fellowship. He has published a large body of poetry. Among them are Song: I Want a Witness (1972), Images of Kin: New and Selected Poems (1977), Healing Song for the Inner Ear (1985), and Honorable Amendments: Poems (1995).

Haydn, Robert E. (1913-1980)

One of the most accomplished poets of the twentieth century, Haydn taught at Fisk University for more than twenty years, and served as Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress (1976-78). He received the World Festival of Negro Artists grand prize in 1966 for A Ballad of Remembrance (1962). Haydn's collections include Heart Shape in the Dust (19400, Figure of Time (1955), Selected Poems (1966), Words in the Mourning Time (1970), The Night-blooming Cereus (1972), Angle of Ascent (1975), and American Journal (1978). Robert Haydn: Collected Poems was published in 1985.

Henderson, David (1942-    )

The author of such books as Felix of the Silent Forest (1967), The Low East Side (1980), and 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: Life of Jimi Hendrix (1983), Henderson was a member of the Umbra Group. He has conducted poetry readings and workshops at various colleges and universities, and his work has appeared in the Paris Review, Evergreen Review, and Journal of Black Poetry.

Hernton, Calvin (1932-    )

A professor of Black Studies and Creative Writing at Oberlin College, Hernton was the cofounder of Umbra magazine. Hernton's books include Sex and Racism in America (1965), Coming Together: Black Power, White Hatred, and Social Hang-Ups (1971, Medicine Man (1976), and The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers: Adventures in Sex, Literature, and Real Life (1987).

Horton, George Moses (c.1797-c.1883)

To call Horton the first black professional man of letter is indeed to signify. A slave in North Carolina, Horton was a gifted poet who wrote on demand for undergraduates at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Two of Horton's volumes, The Hope of Liberty (1829) and The Poetical Works of George Moses Horton, The Colored Bard of North Carolina (1845), enabled him to publicize his antislavery sentiments in a small degree. Naked Genius (1865), published by the newly freed Horton, contains the largest body of his work; it represents the range of his experiments with poetic techniques and his outrage regarding the "peculiar institution."

Hughes, Langston (1902-1967)

From the Harlem Renaissance until the early stages of the Black Arts Movement, Hughes was one of the most prolific African-American writers, and one of the most popular. He wrote fifteen collections of poetry, two novels, two autobiographies, and seven collections of short stories, as well as several juvenile books and translations. Among the many anthologies he edited or co-edited is The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949. Among Hughes's best known works are The Weary Blues (1926), Fine Clothes of the Jew (1927), The Dream Keeper, and Other Poems (1932), Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (1961), and The Panther and the Lash (1967).

Jackson, Angela (1951-    )

The winner of the Hoyt W. Fuller award for Literary Excellence and the American Book Award for Solo in the Boxcar Third Floor E., Jackson lives in Chicago. In addition to writing several plays, she is the author of VooDoo/Love Magic (1974). The Man with the White Liver (1987), and Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners (1993).

Jeffers, Lance (1919-1985)

An assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University at the time of his death, Jeffers was widely regarded as the Negritude poet of his generation. Jeffers was the author of the volumes My Blackness Is the Beauty of This Land (1970), When I Know the Power of My Black Hand (1974), O Africa, Where I know Baked My Bread (1977), Grandsire (1979), and the novel Witherspoon (1983).

Joans, Ted (1928-    )

A painter, travel writer, jazz musician, and poet, Joans was one of the leading figures in the Beat Movement. His books include Black Pow Wow (1969), A Black Manifesto in Jazz Poetry and Prose (1971), Afrodisia (1976), The Aardvark-Watcher: Der Erdfkelforscher (1980), and Sure, Really I Is (1982).

Johnson, Fenton (188-1958)

The founder of Favorite magazine and the founder of the Reconciliation Movement (to promote cooperation between the races), Johnson served as a writer for the Chicago W.P.A. in the 1930s, and for the Easter Press Association in New York City. A former English teacher at the State University in Louisville, Kentucky, Johnson was the author of A Little Dreaming (1914), Visions of the Dusk (1915), Songs of the Soil (1916), and Tales of the Darkest America (1920), a book of short fiction.

Johnson, Georgia Douglass (1886-1966)

Johnson taught school in the South before she moved to Washington, D.C. She worked in government agencies and served as the Commissioner of Conciliation in the Department of Labor (1925-34). Johnson's books include The Heart of a Woman, and Other Poems (1918), Bronze (1922), An Autumn Love Cycle (1928), and Share My World: A Book of Poems (1962).

Johnson, James Weldon (1871-1938)

A professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University at the time of his death, Johnson received a Rosenwald, the W.E.B. Du Bois prize for Negro literature, and the Harmon Gold award for God's Trombones (1927). Johnson was the author of the novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912) and Sainted Peter Relates an Incident: Selected Poems (1935). Johnson also edited the Book of American Negro Poets (1921).

Jordan, June (1936-    )

A poet and essayist whose work is informed by a sense that poetry should give voice tot he deepest personal and political concerns. Jordan teaches at the University of California (Berkeley). She has received many awards, among them the Nancy Bloch Award for The Voice of the Children (1971). Her books of poetry include New Days: Poems of Exile and Return (1973), Things That I Do in the Dark (1977), Passion (1980), Living Room (1985), Naming Our Destiny: New & Selected Poems (1989), and Harukol Love Poems (1994).

Kaufman, Bob (1925-1986)

A nominee for the Guinness Poetry Award and the recipient of an NEA grant, Kaufman was the founder and co-editor, along with Allen Ginsberg, William Margolis, and John Kelley, of the poetry magazine Beatitude, and a legendary figure in the San Francisco poetry scene. His books include Does the Secret Mind Whisper (1959), Solitude Crowded with Loneliness (1965) Golden Sardine (1966), and The Ancient Rain, 1956-1978 (1981), Cranial Guitar: Selected Poems of Bob Kaufman was published in 1996.

Kein, Sybil (1939-    )

Kein, the author of Gombo People (1981) and Delia Dancer (1984), is a poet, dramatist, and scholar who was born in New Orleans and who speaks through her work to preserve the Creole language and culture.

Knight, Etheridge (1931-1991)

Knight was noted for excellence in blending oral and literary poetic traditions. His works include Black Voices from Prison (1968), Belly Song and Other Poems (1973), Born of a Woman: New and Selected Poems (1980), and The Essential Etheridge Knight (1986)

Komunyakaa, Yusef (1947-    )

A professor of English at Indiana University-Bloomington, Komunyakaa won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1993). His poetry collections include Lost in the Bonewheel Factory (1979), I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986) Dien Cai Dau (1988), and Magic City (1992).

Lane, Pinkie Gordon (1923-    )

Professor Emeritus of English at Southern University (Baton Rouge) and Poet Laureate of Louisiana from 1989 to 1992, Lane has won widespread recognition for her lyric forms. Her collections of poetry include Wind Thoughts (1972), The Mystic Female (1978) I Never Scream: New and Selected Poems (1985), and Girl at the Window (1991).

Les Cenelles (New Orleans, 1845)

Publicized as "the first published anthology of Negro verse in America," Les Cenelles is seldom mentioned in discussions of African-American poetry. nevertheless, what this volume might suggest about a tradition that is continued in the work of Sybil Kein and other poets from New Orleans is of critical importance.  

Lorde, Audre (1934-1992)

The founder of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, Lorde served as both a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Thomas Hunter Professor of English at Hunter College. She was a National Book Award nominee for poetry for From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), and the American Book Award recipient for A Burst of Light (1988). Lorde published numerous books of poetry and prose, including The First Cities (1968), Coal (1976), The Black Unicorn (1978), The Cancer Journals (1980) Zami, A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography (1982), Sister Outsider (1984), Our Dead Behind Us (1986), Hell God's Orders (1990), and The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance (1993).

Madgett, Naomi Long (1923-    )

Professor Emeritus at Eastern Michigan University, Madgett is the founder of Lotus Press. The recipient of the Ester R. Bear Poetry Award and the National Coalition Black Women citation, Madgett was awarded the Creative Achievement Award from the College Language Association for Octavia and Other Poems (1988). Her books include Pink Ladies in the Afternoon (1972), Exits and Entrances (1978), A Student's Guide to Creative Writing (1980), and Remembrances of Spring: Collected Early Poems (1993)

Madhubuti, Haki R. (Don L. Lee (1942-    )

The publisher of Third World press and the founder of Black Books Bulletin. Madhubuti has served as writer-in-residence at such universities as Cornell, Northeastern Illinois State, and Howard; he now teaches at Chicago State University. His books include Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions: Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal, 1973-1983 (1984), Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors (1987), and Claiming the Earth: Race, Rape, Ritual, Richness in America & the Search for Enlightened Empowerment (1994). Books published under the name Don. L. Lee include Don't Cry, Scream (1969), We Walk the Way of the New World (1970), and Directionscore: Selected and New Poems (1971).

Major, Clarence (1936-    )

Poet, novelist, editor, and winner of the National Council of the Arts award and the western States Book Award for his novel My Amputations (1986). Major is well known for his work with the Fiction Collective. His books include Symptoms and Madness (1971), The Syncopated Cakewalk (1974), Inside Diameter: The France Poems (1985), Painted Turtle: Woman with Guitar (1988), and Surfaces and Masks (1989). major's most recent anthologies are Calling the Wind: Twentieth-Century African-American Short Stories (1993), and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African-American Poetry (1996).

McClane, Kenneth A. (1951-    )

An associate professor of English and the director of the creative writing center at Cornell University, McClane was awarded the Clark Distinguished Teaching Award in 1983. His books include Moons and Low Times (1978), A Tree Beyond Telling: Poems, Selected and New (1983), These Halves Are Whole (1983), and Walls: Essays, 1985-1990 (1991).

McElroy, Colleen (1935-    )

The winner of the American Book Award for Queen of the Ebony Isles (1985), McElroy is currently a professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is the author of such books as Music from Home (1976), Winters Without Snow (1980), Driving Under the Cardboard Pines: And Other Stories (1989), and What Madness Brought Me Here: New and Selected Poems, 1968-88 (1990).

McKay, Claude (1889-1948)

Jamaican by birth, McKay established himself as an important participant in the Harlem renaissance with his famous poem "If We Must Die" (Liberator, 1919) and such books as Spring in New Hampshire (1920), Harlem Shadows (1922), and Home to Harlem (1928). McKay's autobiography A Long Way from Home (1937) and his social study, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940) are important sources for understanding early twentieth-century African-American literary and intellectual concerns.

Miller, E. Ethelbert (1950-    )

The director of the African-American Resource Center at Howard University, Miller is the founder and organizer of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, Washington, D.C. The recipient of the Columbia Merit Award. Miller has written and edited several books, including Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain: Poems 1975-1980 (1982), Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators? (1986), First Light: New and Selected Poems (1993), and the anthology In Search of Color Everywhere (1994).

Miller, May (1899-1995)

The former chair of the Literature Division of the Commission on the Arts of D.C. Miller also served as a reader, lecturer, or writer-in-residence for such institutions as Monmouth College and the University of Wisconsin. Miller published nine volumes of poetry, including Into the Clearing (1959), the Clearing and Beyond (1973), Dust of an Uncertain Journey (1975), The Ransomed Wait (1983), and Collected Poems (1989).

Moore, Leonard D. (1958-    )

Internationally recognized for his haiku, Moore has published three volumes of poetry, the most recent being Desert Storm: A brief History (1993). His poetry has appeared in several anthologies, including Soulfires (1996) and The Garden Thrives. (1996).

Mullen, Harryette (1960-    )

A professor of English at UCLA, Mullen is the author of four books of poetry: Tree Tall Woman (1981), Trimmings (1991), S*PeRM**K*T (1992), and Muse & Drudge (1995). Her poetry has been included in Washing the Cow's Skull (1982). The Jazz Poetry Anthology (1991) and O Two (1991). Her short stories have been anthologized in Her Work (1982), South by Southwest (1986), and Common Bonds (1990).

Neal Larry (Lawrence P.) (1937-1981)

The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1971, Neal co-edited the groundbreaking anthology Black Fire (1968) with leroi Jones. Within his lifetime, Neal published Black Boogaloo (1969), Trippin' A Need for Change (with Imamu Amiri Baraka and A.B. Spelman (1969), and Hoodoo Hollerin' Bebop Ghosts (1974). His selected works were published in visions of a Liberated Future: Black Arts Movement Writings (1989).

Patterson, R. Raymond (1929-    )

Patterson, a former professor of English at the City College of the City University of New York, is the author of Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1969) and Elemental Blues (1983).

Payne, Daniel A. (1811-1893)

Born in South Carolina, Payne moved north in the 1830s, became an ordained African Methodist Episcopal minister and later served as president of Wilberforce University. His collection Pleasures and Other Miscellaneous Poems (1850) is strongly marked by his religious sensibility. Among his other writings are The History of the A.M.E. Church (1866) and Recollections of Seventy Years (1888).

Plato, Ann (c.1820-?)

Little is known of Plato's life aside from her teaching in Hartford, Connecticut, and her publication in 1841 of Essays: Including Biographies and Miscellaneous Pieces in prose and Poetry.

Plumpp, Sterling D. (1940-    )

professor in Black Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Plumpp received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award for Poetry for The Mojo Hands Call, I Must Go (1982). He has written many books of poetry, including Half Black, Half Blacker,(1970), Steps to Break the Circle (1974), Clinton (1976), Blues: The Story Always Untold (1989), Johannesburg & Other Poems (1993), and Hornman (1995). Plump is the major blues poet of his generation.

Prince, Lucy Terry (1730-1821)

Prince's account of an Indian raid in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on August 25, 1746 ("Bars Fight") is the single extant example of her work. Although it was written in 1746, the poem was transmitted orally until it was printed in Holland's History of Western Massachusetts in 1855.

Randall, Dudley (1914-    )

The founder of an presently the consultant in Broadside Press, Randall has been the recipient of the Kuumba Liberation Award, NEA fellowships, and the Tompkins Award from Wayne State University. Randall played a major role in providing a forum for American poetry in the 1960s and 1970s. His books include More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades (1971), After the Killing (1973). A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems (1983), and Homage to Hoyt Fuller (1984).

Ray, Henrietta Cordelia (1849-1916)

Earning a Masters in Pedagogy from New York University (1891), Ray taught in the New York public school system for thirty years. Ray published four books in her lifetime: Sketch of the Life of the Rev. Charles B. Ray (1887), Lincoln: Written for the Occasion of the Unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln (1893), Sonnets (1893) and Poems (1910).

Redmond, Eugene (1937-    )

Poet, editor, historian, essayist, and playwright, Redmond has dedicated much of his work to preserving and enhancing oral poetic traditions. His Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (976) is the most comprehensive literary history of the genre to date. Redmond is founder and publisher of Drumvoices Revue. His many books include River of Bones and Fresh and Blood (1971), Consider Loneliness as These Things (1973), A Confluence of Colors (1984), and The Eye in the Ceiling (1991).

Reed Ishmael (1938-    )

A novelist, poet, essayist, dramatist, and social critic, Reed teaches at the University of California (Berkeley) and continues his project to reshape the multicultural sensibilities of his audiences. Reed is the co-founder of The Before Columbus Foundation and of the magazines Yardbird, Y'Bird and Quilt. He is the proponent of multiculturalism. His books of poetry include catechism of neoamerican hoodoo church (1970) Conjure: Selected Poems, 1963-1970 (1972), Chattanooga (1973), A Secretary of the Spirits (1977), and New and Collected Poems (1988).

Rodgers, Carolyn (1945-    )

The recipient of an NEA grant, the Carnegie Award, PEN Awards, and the National Book Award nomination for how I got ovah: New and Selected Poems  (1975), Rodgers is the author of Now Ain't That Love (1970), The Heart as Ever Green: Poems(1978), A Little Lower Than Angels (1984), and Finite Forms: Poems (1985).

Salaam, Kalamu ya (1947-    )

Poet, playwright, essayist, music critic, and former editor of The Black collegian, ya Salaam lives in New Orleans. His plays have been anthologized in Black Theatre, USA (1974), New Plays for the Black Theater (1989), and Black Southern Voices (1992). His collection of poetry include Ibura (1976), Revolutionary Love (1978), Iron Flowers (1979), and A Nation of Poets (1990). His most recent collection of essays and poetry is What Is Life? (1994).

Sanchez, Sonia (1934-    )

The Laura H. Carnell professor of English at Temple University. Sanchez received the American Book award for Homegirls & Handgrenades (1984). The recipient of a PEN Writing Award, NEA Awards, the Lucretia Mott Award, and the Oni Award from the International Black women's Congress, Sanchez continues to define the womanist dimensions of culturally informed poetry. Among her more than twenty books are Homecoming (1969), I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (1980), Under a Soprano Sky (1987), and Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995).

Shange, Ntozake (1948-    )

Shange won national acclaim for her choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf (1975). Among her many works are the novels Sassafras, Cypress, and Indigo (1982), Betsy Brown (1985), and Liliane (1994); the poetry collections Nappy Edges (1978), A Daughter's Geography (1983), and From Okra to Greens: Poems (1984); and the prose volumes See No Evil (1984) and Riding the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings (1988).

Spencer, Anne (1882-1975)

A former public school teacher at Bramwell, West Virgnia, Spencer later taught at the Virginia Seminary, Lynchburg, Virginia, and worked toward the establishment of an NAACP chapter in that city. Though Spencer published no collections of her own poetry, she'd contribute to such anthologies as The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), Caroling Dusk (1927), and The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949 (1949).

Stuckey, Elma (1907-1988)

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Stuckey moved to Chicago in 1945 and worked for the Department of Labor of the State of Illinois. She later became a full-time writer and lecturer, publishing two books in her lifetime, The Big Gate (1976) and The Collected Poems of Elma Stuckey (1987), both of which are strongly marked by the black oral tradition and historical memory. She gave readings for high schools and community organizations as well as at such universities as Harvard, Cornell, and Stanford, reaffirming the importance of oral presentation.

Thomas, Lorenzo (1944-    )

Thomas, who teaches at the University of Houston, Downtown, was a member of the legendary Umbra Group. His books include Fit Music (1972), Framing the Sunrise (1975), The Bathers: Selected Poems (1978), and Chances Are Few (1979)

Thompson, Julius E. (1946-    )

Director of the Black Studies program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Thompson is a historian and poet. He has published two volumes of poetry, Hopes Tied Up in Promises (1970) and Blues Said: Walk On (1977), and four historical studies, including The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865-1985 (1993). His major study, Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960-1995, is scheduled for publication in 1997.

Tolson, Melvin B. (1898-1966)

A former Avalon professor of the Humanities at Tuskegee Institute, Tolson before that was a professor of creative literature and the director of the dust Bowl Theatre at Langston University. the poet laureate of Liberia, Tolson published the poetry collections Rendezvous With America (1944) and Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (1953), A Gallery of Harlem Portraits (1979) and Caviar and Cabbage (1982), a collection of prose, were published posthumously. Tolson was a leading American Modernist poet.

Toomer, Jean (1894-1967)

Toomer's reputation, until recently, was based mainly on cane (19230, an avant-garde work of the Harlem Renaissance. After the appearance of Essentials (1931), he found it difficult to get his works published. Toomer was given slight notice until more of his writing was made available in The Wayward and the Seeking: A Miscellany of Writings (1980) and The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer (1988).

Touré, Askia Muhammad (1938-    )

One of the earliest and forceful voices in the Black Arts/Black Aesthetic Movement, Touré has also been a member of the legendary Umbra group. Touré's books include Earth (1968), JuJu: Magic Songs for the Black Nation (with Ben Caldwell) (1970), Songhai! (1972), and From the Pyramids to the Projects (1990), which won the American Book Award.

Troupe, Quincy (1943-    )

Troupe is the author of ten books, including give volumes of poetry, the latest of which is Avalanche (1996). He edited James Baldwin: The Legacy and co-authored Miles: The Autobiography, both published in 1989. He is the recipient of two American Book Awards and a Peabody Award for the Miles Davis Radio Project which he wrote and co-produced. Troupe is professor of Creative Writing and American and Caribbean Literature at the University of California, San Diego.

Walker, Alice (1944-    )

The recipient of the Pulitzer prize and the American Book Award for The Color Purple (1982), Walker also received a Lillian Smith Award for Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973). Her other books of poetry are Once (1968), Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (1979), Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1984), and Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1965-1990 (1991).

Walker, Margaret (1915-    )

Walker's first book, For My People, was published in 1942 as a result of her winning the Yale Younger Poets contest, and the title poem has acquired a very special status within African-American culture. She received a Houghton-Mifflin Fellowship for her acclaimed Jubilee (1966). Critical interest in the full body of her poetry has been revitalized since the publication of This Is My Century: New and Collected Poems (1989), which includes her earlier volumes Prophets for a New Day (1970) and October Journey (1973).

Watkins, Nayo Barbara Malcolm (1940-    )

Watkins, a poet, playwright, and essayist, published her first book of poems, I Want Me a Home, in 1969 as part of the BLKARTSOUTH workshop in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including New Black Voices (1972) and Black Southern Voices (1992).

Wheatley, Phillis (c.1753-1784)

Despite the fact that her single volume, Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral (1773), was first issued in London, Wheatley has the honor of being the first African writer in North America to publish a collection of poems. Sold into slavery from her native West Africa, Wheatley was brought to Boston in 1761. She mastered English and its poetic forms rapidly, publishing her first poem in 1770. Among the Colonial poets who were influenced by English neo-classical verse, Wheatley must be judged one of the best.

Whitfield, James M. (1822-1871)

Whitfield became involved in the American Colonization Society in 1858, five years after the publication of his only book of verse, America and Other Poems. Whitfield's poetry is at once romantic and militant.

Whitman, Albery A. (1851-1901)

The pastor of several A.M.E. churches in Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and Georgia, Whitman served as general financial agent at Wilberforce University. The protégé of Daniel A. Payne, Whitman published several books, including Essay on the Ten Plagues and Miscellaneous Poems (c.1871), Not a Man and Yet a Man, Miscellaneous Poems (1877), and An Idyll of the South, an Epic Poem in Two Parts (1901).

Wright, Richard (1908-1960)

In addition to writing such powerful works of fiction as Uncle Tom's Children (1938), Native Son (1940), and The Long Dream (1958), Wright published poetry in left-wing journals during the 1930s; toward the end of his life, Wright became very interested in haiku poems and wrote approximately 4,000 of them.

Young, Al (1939-    )

Young, who lives in California, is a poet, novelist, and musician. he has published many books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. His works include Ask Me Now (1980), Heaven: Collected Poems (1988), Straight No Chaser (1994), and Drowning in the Sea of Love: Essays on Music (1995).

Zu-Bolton II, Ahmos (1935-    )

Born in Poplarville, Mississippi, Zu-Bolton was the founder and editor of HooDoo magazine and coeditor of Synergy: D.C. Anthology. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and in the anthologies Giant Talk (1975), Mississippi Writers, Vol. III (1988), and Black Southern Voices (1992) Zu-Bolton, who currently lives in New Orleans, is the author of A Niggered Amen.

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Source: Ward, Jr., Jerry W., editor • Trouble the Water • Penguin Group, New York, February, 1997

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Not Gone With the Wind Voices of Slavery—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—9 February 2003—Unchained Memories, an HBO documentary that makes its debut tomorrow night, provides a powerful answer to that question. It gives us, through the faces and voices of African-American actors, an introduction to a vast undertaking that took place in the 1930's: the collection and preservation of the testimonies of thousands of aged former slaves in an archive known as the Slave Narrative Collection of the Federal Writers' Project. This archive unlocked the brutal secrets of slavery by using the voices of average slaves as the key, exposing the everyday life of the slave community. Rosa Starke, a slave from South Carolina, for example, told of how class divisions among the slaves were quite pronounced:

''Dere was just two classes to de white folks, buckra slave owners and poor white folks dat didn't own no slaves. Dere was more classes 'mongst de slaves. De fust class was de house servants. Dese was de butler, de maids, de nurses, chambermaids, and de cooks. De nex' class was de carriage drivers and de gardeners, de carpenters, de barber and de stable men. Then come de nex' class, de wheelwright, wagoners, blacksmiths and slave foremen. De nex' class I members was de cow men and de niggers dat have care of de dogs. All dese have good houses and never have to work hard or git a beatin'. Then come de cradlers of de wheat, de threshers and de millers of de corn and de wheat, and de feeders of de cotton gin. De lowest class was de common field niggers.''NYTimes

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 13 November 2005




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