4 Black Women Poets We Can All Learn From2/27/2013
It's not hard to be inspired by Black women poets. For decades, we have been blessed with the a...
It's not hard to be inspired by Black women poets. For decades, we have been blessed with the astute prose and ornate writings of the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde and June Jordan. However, it would be unfair to label these women simply as poets, they all represent much more than their art form. There is something within the framework of the Black woman poet that is rare to find elsewhere, a certain je na sais quoi that captivates and intrigues us.
Spirited, tenacious and veracious, these women have taught invaluable lessons to generations of Black women through their artistry, their triumphs and everything they stood for in between.
Throughout her extensive career, Brooks maintained an artistic integrity that helped to set the tone for her many successors. Through her poetry, she gave America her unvarnished insights on the Black experience with such classics as "A Street in Bronzeville" that helped to illustrate the oppression occurring in the lives of Blacks in Chicago.
Brooks incorporation of social issues into her art not only made her work authentic, it introduced outsiders to the Black experience which was unbeknownst to the dominating white culture of the time. Spending much of her career writing about the issues within her community Brooks used her art constructively by teaching poetry to gang members and troubled teens.
Gwendolyn Brooks opened the gateway for the “each one, teach one” mindset in the Black literary community during the civil rights era. It’s hard to determine if the world would have experienced the likes of Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez had there not been a Gwendolyn Brooks. From Brooks, we learn the power in truth telling and the importance of using our gifts to foster the advancement of others.
In the 9th grade, I recited Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman". It was my first time reciting a poem in front of what would be hundreds of people and my nerves were eating at me. No time for cold feet, I took a deep breathe as I dug into myself to channel my inner Maya Angelou and the second I grabbed the microphone, that is who I came.
The words flew out of my mouth mellifluously as I gave expression to each line. A confident air emitted through all of my movements, it was an out of body experience. Haughty yet harmonious. Sassy yet serene. I maintained the perfect balance of the strong and congenial woman that Angelou declared she was in that poem.
At the end of my performance, I was applauded by my peers, teachers and complete strangers. It was in that moment that I discovered the medium between self-confidence and grace and this is exactly what Maya Angelou exemplifies to me.
Angelou has been an activist, humanitarian and a literary icon but for me, she is the paradigm of what I aspire to be someday. Wise, humble and exceptionally articulate she has and continues to set a great example for Black women.
Audre Lorde was a fighter. She fought against racism as a Black child to immigrant parents growing up in Harlem. She fought against gender roles by opting out of the housewife lifestyle expected of her. She fought against social norms by being open about her lesbianism and crusading for gay rights during a time when such a thing was taboo. But perhaps the most trying battles she ever fought were her battles against liver and breast cancer which she lost in 1992. Lorde ingenously expressed her experiences and struggles in such works as Zami: A New Spelling of My Name and The Cancer Journals: Special Edition.
Though she is irrefutably one of the most influential Black poets of our time, the most praiseworthy trait Audre Lorde possessed was the courage she had to be different. And not only did she embrace her own differences and uniqueness but she helped to draw attention to those who have been overlooked because of their differences.
She spoke out against first wave feminism and it’s lack of providing support of non middle-class white women, arguing that overlooking the differences of women of other races (and sexualities) is another form of oppression. She advocated for gay rights and her Cancer Journals helped to expose some of the health care issues minorities and women in America had been facing during that time.
All warriors have a weapon of choice, for Audre Lorde it was her voice. Her fury challenged society to not hold generalizations on oppressed groups, to be cognizant of the complexities of oppression and most importantly, the power of speaking up and speaking out.
June Jordan began her career as a writer and literature enthusiast who possessed a passion for expressing her feelings and beliefs about the world. It was not until after she attended Barnard College and continued her education at The University of Chicago, that she sought out ways she could use her art form to draw attention to the disparities in higher education.
While attending the University of Chicago, she noticed that not only did the university’s faculty have a lack of minority and women professors but also a lack of multicultural studies. She began utilizing her poetry and journalistic writing as a way to advocate for more diversity in major American universities and eventually taught at several universities herself.
Through interviews, lecturing, essays and several national publications, Jordan presented arguments that detested the way millions of blacks were being educated with no attention to how their people have contributed to society. She pushed the envelope by showing her generation to not be complacent with having access to the same means of education as whites and to challenge the educational system to include multicultural studies in the curriculum for all races.
From Jordan we learn the importance of educating ourselves beyond conventional means. We learn that our contributions to this society are invaluable and have impacted not only us, but all Americans and thus should be taught to all Americans.