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Poetry of the Black Arts Movement

The Black Arts Movement (BAM) was a period of growth in the arts by African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s. Poetry saw tremendous growth during this period, and this guide is dedicated to compiling information about the poets of BAM and their works.

Women of the Black Arts Movement

 The Black Arts Movement was deemed controversial for many reasons; one of them being that much of the content was considered sexist. Many of the major works of BAM were solely focused on Black masculinity, and this often threatened to drown out the voices and messages of Black women artists of the movement. Though the Black Arts Movement was largely male dominated, many female artists gained recognition for their works, and several of those women enjoyed lasting fame as their works began to be celebrated by the mainstream. Their messages of Black womanhood, motherhood, African womanism, and feminism should not be forgotten amongst the contrary messages of some BAM leaders. 

 

Notable Women Poets of BAM

  • Nikki Giovanni
    • Nikki Giovanni is probably the most famous woman poet of the Black Arts Movement. Her early poetry provides has strong, militant presence, leading one writer to dub her the "Poet of the Black Revolution." Giovanni garnered fame from the release of her first three collections of poetry: Black Feeling, Black Talk (1967), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation (1970). 
  • Sonia Sanchez
    • Sonia Sanchez's contributions to the Black Arts Movement lie in the publication of her first and second volumes of poetry. The first, Home Coming (1968), describes both the struggle of defining black identity in the United States as well as the many causes for celebration Sanchez sees in black culture. The second, We BaddDDD People (1970), uses experimental poetic forms and focuses on the everyday lives of Black women and men.
  • Audre Lorde
    • Audre Lorde published three poetry collections during the Black Arts Movement. Her first, The First Cities (1968), though not politically driven was an introspective reflection of Lorde's identity as a Black person. The second and third books, Cable to Rage (1970) and From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), both more political than her first book, explore injustices and oppression that Lorde faced in her life as a Black woman, a lesbian, a mother, and a poet. 
  • Jayne Cortez
    • Jayne Cortez's poetry collections Pissstained Stairs and the Monkey Man's Wares (1969) and Festivals and Funerals (1971) were both released during the Black Arts Movements and both incorporated a lyrical style of writing for which Cortez is known. Her other BAM work, Celebrations and Solitudes (1974), was released as a spoken word album, on which Cortez read her poems over music by bassist Richard Davis. 
  • Gwendolyn Brooks
    • Chicago-based poet Gwendolyn Brooks, active in the poetry community since the 1940s, makes a huge contribution to the Black Arts Movement with her collection, In the Mecca (1968), a volume that discusses the realities, both beautiful and ugly, of living in urban cities like Chicago. 
  • June Jordan
    • June Jordan's first published book, Who Look at Me (1969), was a collection of poetry for children that used poetry to describe paintings by Black Americans. Jordan wouldn't released her first full-length book of poetry until 1974 when she published New Days: Poems of Exile and Return.
  • Carolyn Rodgers
    • Carolyn Rodgers's poetry style used free verse street slang and often employed profanity to construct her messages about identity, religion, womanism, and revolution. Though her use of profanity was criticized as being unladylike by some male BAM leaders, her poetry collections Paper Soul (1968) and Songs of a Blackbird (1969) led her to be considered one of the most influential voices of the Black Arts Movement. 
  • Mari Evans
    • Mari Evans was known for her precise use of language and her dispassionate tone that allows her words to carry their own power. Mari Evans's first volume of poetry, Where Is All the Music? (1968), was a very personal collection that included many personal narratives of Evans herself. Her second collection, I Am a Black Woman (1970), featured many of the poems from Where Is All the Music but incorporated a more pronounced message of Black liberation.
  • Maya Angelou
    • Though most renowned for her autobiographies, Maya Angelou also received acclaim for her 1971 volume of poetry Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie. This volume is divided into two sections, the first being comprised of love poems and the second of poems about the experience of African Americans living in a white dominated society.