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Water cooler: Poets to read in a time of political strife

Virginia Tech English Professor Nikki Giovanni speaks during closing remarks at a convocation to honor the victims of a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on April 17, 2007.  (Associated Press)
Virginia Tech English Professor Nikki Giovanni speaks during closing remarks at a convocation to honor the victims of a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on April 17, 2007. (Associated Press)

During times of political strife people look to thinkers, leaders, helpers and especially artists. Not only do artists capture and expressively reflect ideas of the time, but they can offer humanity, guidance and healing. Here are a few poets to look for inspiration, catharsis and restoration during these times.

Sonia Sanchez: When Sanchez was born in 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama, she lost her mother to childbirth. She lived with relatives until 1943 when she moved to Harlem. Sanchez has a Bachelor of Arts in political science and she later studied poetry with Louise Bogan and formed a writers workshop in Greenwich Village. She was politically active in the ‘60s and went on to teach Black studies courses at what is now San Francisco State University in 1968 and 1969. Sanchez is the author of other a dozen books of poetry including, “Morning Haiku,” “Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems,” “Does your house have lions?” “Homegirls & Handgrenades,” “I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems,” “We a BaddDDD People,” and “Homecoming.” She has also published several plays and children’s books.

Nikki Giovanni: Giovanni grew up amongst her mother’s rich library, filled with Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, John Hershey and Paul Laurence Dunbar. She was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and grew up close with her grandmother who helped Giovanni foster an appreciation for her heritage and African American culture. Her first published volumes were inspired by her response to the assassinations of prominent civil rights leaders including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evars, as well as the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Giovanni felt an urgent need to raise awareness to the plights, struggles and rights of Black Americans. She is the author of numerous poetry collections and children’s books including, “Black Judgement,” “Black Feeling, Black Talk,” “Love Poems,” “Blues For All the Changes: New Poems,” “Quilting the Black-Eye Pea: Poems and Not-Quite Poems,” “Acolytes,” and “Bicycles: Love Poems.”

Jericho Brown: Brown was a speechwriter for the mayor of New Orleans before he went on to earn a doctorate degree in literature and creative writing. He is the author of “The Tradition” which was published in 2019 and won the 2020 Pulitizer Prize for Poetry, as well as being a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry. His work “The New Testament” received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and his book “Please” received the 2009 American Book Award.

Aracelis Girmay: Born and raised in Santa Ana, California, Girmay has written works that attest to loss, transformation and connection from coast to coast. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at Connecticut College and went on to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts from New York University. She now resides in New York City. Girmay’s poetry collections included “The Black Maria” and “Teeth.” She was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011 and in 2015 received a Whiting Award for Poetry.

Haki Madhubuti: Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Madhubuti has been active in literature and social justice since the ‘60s. He served in the army from 1960-63 and later became involved in the Black Arts Movement. Madhubuti has published over 20 books of poetry, essays and nonfiction. His poetry is politically charged and works in free-verse and experimental forms. Find his work in the collections “Don’t Cry, Scream,” “Groundwork: Selected Poems of Haki R. Madhubuti/ Don L. Lee,” “Heart Love: Wedding & Love Poems,” “Killing Memory, Seeking Ancestors,” and “Earthquakes and Sunrise Missions: Poetry and Essays of Black Renewal.”

Robert Hayden: Hayden was raised in Detroit and experienced a tumultuous childhood. He attended Detroit City College and later Wayne State University. His first book of poems titled, “Heart-Shape in the Dust” was published in 1940 at the age of 27. Hayden studied under W. H. Auden at the University of Michigan, who became integral to Hayden’s development as a writer. Hayden went on to gain international recognition in the 1960s. He wrote nine collections of poetry as well as essays and children’s books. His other work includes, “American Journal,” “Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems,” “The Night-Blooming Cereus,” “Words in the Mourning Time,” “Selected Poems,” “A Ballad of Remembrance,” “Figure of Time,” and “The Lion and the Archer.”

Some other poets to explore include: June Jordan, Srikanth Reddy, Leslie Silko, Canisia Lubrin, Wanda Coleman, Fred Moten, Jorie Graham, Craig Santos Perez and Audre Lorde.

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