On this day in 1711, Jupiter Hammon was born. Hammon was the first African American to publish poetry in the US, and so today is unofficially celebrated as Black Poetry Day.
The 100 Best African American Poems edited by Nikki Giovanni. Giovanni couldn't choose only 100 poems, so there are some more in here. A look at a wide range of styles, themes, and time periods, this anthology also includes an audio CD, allowing readers to hear more recent authors read and recite their work.
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson. A royal crown of sonnets-- a cycle of 15 Petrarchan sonnets has the last line of one sonnet be the first line of the next, until the last poem, which is made up of the first lines of the previous poems. This royal crown tells the story of Emmett Till-- a 14-year-old boy who was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
The Vintage Book of African American Poetry edited by Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton. This anthology looks at over 50 poets starting with Hammon and moving through the present. Notes and commentary add context.
The Rose that Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur. This is a collection of rapper Tupac's poetry from the late 80s and early 90s-- before he was famous. In addition to his powerful words, this book pairs the poems with reproductions of the originals so you can read it in his own writing and see his editing process.
Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. Every Friday Mr. Ward's English class turns into a poetry open mic, allowing each student to express their thoughts and feelings. Told in the verse that these kids share each Friday, we meet 18 voices as they find a safe place each week.
Street Love by Walter Dean Myers. In this one, we get to hear the voices of many characters. Damien has a house on Sugar Hill and a scholarship to Brown. Junice's mother has just been arrested and she's doing everything she can to keep her family together. We don't just see their relationship through their eyes, but also through the voices of their friends and family, neighbors, and even Junice's social worker.
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. In this verse novel, Locomotion tells of life with his foster mother Mrs. Edna and how she manages to visit his little sister, who has been adopted by another family.
Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng. This biography-in-verse is a fictionalized biography of the slave potter, Dave. His pots were beautiful, and also signed and etched with rhyming couplets. No one knows when and how Dave learned to read and write--a punishable crime.
Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry edited by Charles Henry Rowell. This is the longest anthology on our list, as well as the one with the more narrow focus. The poems in this book are all from the last 50 years, showcasing recent and contemporary black poets.
The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni: 1968-1995 by Nikki Giovanni. My high school opened my sophomore year, and the library was built with room to grow, which means the shelves were pretty bare in those early years when I was there. This was on of the books the library did own, but once a friend discovered it, it was never on the shelf, as we all took turns checking it out and reading these poems-- a definite favorite.
Who are your favorite black poets? What books are your must reads?
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