Poetry for Black History Month
In Spike Lee's film X, there is a scene adapted from The Autobiography of Malcolm X in which the young protagonist, newly imprisoned, suffering cocaine-withdrawal and still wearing the name Malcolm Little, is urged by an older prisoner to look up the word "black" in a dictionary.
I've been sitting here staring at the title above and thinking about that scene and the strange and resonant meanings of the words "Black History," in light of it: Black - having little or no light. Black - cheerless and depressing. Black - marked by anger. Black - attended with disaster. Black - deserving of, indicating, or incurring censure or dishonor.
And those are just the adjectives.
We all should know the broad outlines of that history by now: The brutal abductions from homelands, the lethal Middle Passage, the slave auctions that tore husband from wife, mother from child, the unspeakable inhumanity of slavery, the brief hopefulness of the years immediately following the Civil War, the incremental institution of Jim Crow and the revocation of freedoms gained, the slavery-in-all-but-name of share-cropping in the South, the violence unleashed against those who asked only for the rights guaranteed them in the constitution, the era-ending assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, as well as the countless lynchings of men and women--many of whose names are now lost to time.
There is no doubting that light managed to break through the darkness and that there have been many victories both large and small throughout that history. not the least of which is the election of President Obama, but in many respects it has been a history of suffering and struggle, yet through it all, African Americans have been innovators and inventors, jurists and soldiers, educators and artists, and that is what this month of commemoration is about.
Below you will find some of the finest voices human language has yet known, and I hope you will take some time to reacquaint yourself with those you know, and discover some you don't. As always, if I have left anyone out, please let me know. Suggestions for future posts and any comments are appreciated.
A Short List of African American Poets in the Harris County Public Library collection
Ai / Elizabeth Alexander / Will Alexander / Maya Angelou / Arna Bontemps / Gwendolyn Brooks / Amiri Baraka / Lucille Clifton / Countee Cullen / Frank Marshall Davis / Paul Laurence Dunbar / Rita Dove / Cornelius Eady / Nikki Giovanni / Nikki Grimes / Michael S. Harper / Robert Hayden / Langston Hughes / Major Jackson / June Jordan / Etheridge Knight / Yusef Komunyakaa / Audre Lorde / Nathaniel Mackey / Claude McKay / Marilyn Nelson / Sonia Sanchez / Sapphire / Ntosake Shange / Reginald Shepherd / Jean Toomer / Natasha Trethewey / Quincy Troupe / Alice Walker / Phillis Wheatley / Jay Wright / Kevin Young /
Some Anthologies of African American Poetry
Adam of Ife: Black Women in Praise of Black Men, Poems [electronic resource] / edited and with a foreword by Naomi Long Madgett
African American Poets of the 19th Century / edited by Joan R. Sherman
Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, 1660 - 1810 / edited by James G. Basker
Blues Poems / selected and edited by Kevin Young
Collected Black Women's Poetry / edited by Joan R. Sherman
Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945 / edited by Michael Harper and Anthony Walton.
Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade / edited by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady
I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by African Americans / edited and with an afterword by Arnold Adoff ; drawings by Benny Andrews ; introduction by Rudine Sims Bishop ; foreword by Nikki Giovanni.
In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African-American Poetry / edited by E. Ethelbert Miller ; illustrated by Terrance Cummings.
In the Hollow of Your Hand: Slave Lullabies / collected by Alice McGill ; pictures by Michael Cummings.
The Jazz Poetry Anthology / edited by Sascha Feinstein and Yusef Komunyakaa.
The Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry / edited by Arnold Rampersad ; associate editor, Hilary Herbold.
The Poetry of Black America: An Anthology of the 20th Century / edited by Arnold Adoff ; introduction by Gwendolyn Brooks.
Quiet Storm: Voices of Young Black Poets / selected by Lydia Omolala Okutoro.
Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry / edited by Keith Gilyard
Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry / edited by Jerry W. Ward Jr.
Poetry on Audio and Video
The African-American audio experience [CD] / Caedmon
Furious Flower: Conversations with African American Poets [VHS] / California Newsreel
Furious Flower II: Regenerating the Black Poetic Tradition [DVD] / Furious Flower Poetry Center, James Madison University.
When Hell Freezes Over, I'll Skate [DVD] / a presentation of Thirteen/WNET New York, Great Performances, Theater in America.
Writings of Hughes and Hurston [DVD] / C-SPAN.