Black History Month Spotlight: Contemporary Black Poetry

Posted on

Feb 26 2016
Camille Dungy, Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, & John Keene at a Cave Canem reading, 2002

For Black History Month, every Friday in Stanza we have highlighted a different movement that was essential to African American poetry—and the literary landscape of America overall. In previous weeks, we’ve spotlighted the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, and the Black Arts movement, and this week we bring Black History Month to a close with a look at contemporary African American poetry today.

Following the Black Arts movement of the 1960s, many African American artists continued to dive into their cultural heritage and history in America, though some criticized the singular, restrictive definition of “blackness” espoused by cultural nationalists of the ’60s. The ’70s and ’80s in particular were marked by a move toward an awareness of African identity and culture, similar to what was seen in Négritude. Other aspects of African American culture, such as the vernacular, popular music, and oral traditions, were incorporated into poetry in ways that were also characteristic of the previous movements.

As African American poetry has continued to change, evolve, and shape the literary history of the country, there have been poets who have led the way in creating spaces that foster a sense of community, culture, and literary excellence: In 1988, Thomas Sayers Ellis and Sharan Strange founded the Dark Room Collective in Boston; in 1994, the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the nation’s only center dedicated to African American poetry, introduced the first annual Furious Flower Poetry Conference, featuring Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez; and in 1996, Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady founded Cave Canem.

Through the rest of Black History Month and beyond, we hope to take this sense of reflection, celebration, and awareness of African American life, art, culture, and history with us in our daily lives. Visit our Black History Month page for more poems, essays, videos, lesson plans, and more.

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