5 Black women poets to read.

Today being the National Poetry day, we ought to celebrate great word crafters. We picked five women poets who would interest you.

  1. Nikki Giovanni
Credit: www.sfc.edu
Credit: www.sfc.edu

Yolanda Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1960, she entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she worked with the school’s Writer’s Workshop and edited the literary magazine. After receiving her bachelor of arts degree in 1967, she organized the Black Arts Festival in Cincinnati before entering graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

A lung cancer survivor, Giovanni has also contributed an introduction to the anthology Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors (Hilton Publishing, 2005).

One of her poems is: Choices

In life
one is always
balancing

like we juggle our mothers
against our fathers

or one teacher
against another
(only to balance our grade average)

3 grains of salt
to one ounce truth

our sweet black essence
or the funky honkies down the street

and lately I’ve begun wondering
if you’re trying to tell me something

we used to talk all night
and do things alone together

and I’ve begun

(as a reaction to a feeling)
to balance
the pleasure of loneliness
against the pain
of loving you

2. Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Credit: funnyordie.com
Credit: funnyordie.com

Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman.

In 1971, Angelou published the Pulitzer Prize-nominated poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die. She later wrote the poem “On the Pulse of Morning”—one of her most famous works—which she recited at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Angelou received several honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009. She died on May 28, 2014.

Among her famous works is: Our Grandmothers

She lay, skin down in the moist dirt,
the canebrake rustling
with the whispers of leaves, and
loud longing of hounds and
the ransack of hunters crackling the near
branches.

She muttered, lifting her head a nod toward
freedom,
I shall not, I shall not be moved.

She gathered her babies,
their tears slick as oil on black faces,
their young eyes canvassing mornings of madness.
Momma, is Master going to sell you
from us tomorrow?
Read more here.

3. Staceyann Chin

Credit: muthamagazine.com
Credit: muthamagazine.com

She is a spoken-word poet, performing artist and LGBT rights political activist. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Pittsburgh Daily, and has been featured on 60 Minutes.

Chin was born in Jamaica but now lives in New York City, in Brooklyn. She is of Chinese-Jamaican and Afro-Jamaican descent. She announced in 2011 that she was pregnant with her first child, giving birth to a daughter in January 2012. She has been candid about her pregnancy by means of in-vitro fertilization, and wrote about her experiences as a pregnant, single lesbian in a guest blog for the Huffington Post.

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

4. Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)

Credit: elitismstyle.com
Credit: elitismstyle.com

She was a highly regarded, much-honored poet, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period.

Her body of work gave her, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”

One of her works is: The crazy woman

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”

5. Alice Walker

Credit: bandofthebes.typepad.com
Credit: bandofthebes.typepad.com

She was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She worked as a social worker, teacher and lecturer, and took part in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. Walker won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her 1982 novel, The Color Purple, and is also an acclaimed poet and essayist.

Walker’s career as a writer took flight with the publication of her third novel, The Color Purple, in 1982. Set in the early 1900s, the novel explores the female African-American experience through the life and struggles of its narrator, Celie. Celie suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her father, and later, from her husband. The compelling work won Walker both the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983.

One of her poems is: Be nobody’s darling

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
To madness
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
They said.

But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.

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