April is National Poetry month and with Amanda Gorman’s historic inauguration performance centering poetry on the world stage, people inside and outside of the literary world are paying extra attention to our country’s scribes during this season.
Poets are our mirrors, healers, and judges. They reflect back our values, actions, and priorities. Exciting collections that explore gender identity, immigration experiences, Gullah-Geechee culture, and more are waiting to be added to your bookshelves from these past and present poets.
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In addition to Gorman, who’s printed edition of The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country debuted at number 1 on The New York Times bestseller’s list, we have discovered 20 other poets you should know.
DéLana R.A. Dameron
The South Carolina native behind Weary Kingdom, crystalizes the fears and dreams of Black women with a somber clarity.
The late poet, playwright and novelist’s most celebrated work is 1977’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf but her multiple books of poetry including Ridin’ the Moon in Texas: Word Paintings, Natural Disasters, Other Festive Occasions and Melissa & Smith are just as powerful.
Danez Smith challenged the world to manifest new narratives for Black Boys with “Not An Elegy For Mike Brown” and “Alternate Names for Black Boys.” Since then he exalted the power of redemption, reflection and imagination in Don’t Call Us Dead, Homie and the aptly cinematic Black Movie.
Safia Elhillo is the Sudanese-American voice behind the heartbreaking text The January Children. Her work has appeared in The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism and she co-edited The BreakBeat Poets, Volume 3: Halal If You Hear Me.
Naomi Extra is the comical, culturally sensitive, feminist scholar we wish we were taught in freshmen lit. Her work has been featured in The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic, The Lily and The Boston Review.
Rickey Laurentiis is the author of the critically acclaimed Boy With Thorn. Their work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, New Republic, Feminist Studies, The Kenyon Review and more.
Evie Shockley’s Nashville upbringing infuses her poetry with southern dialect. Her books include a half-red sea and the new black and her work has been featured in Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook, A Broken Thing: Contemporary Poets on the Line, and Contemporary African American Literature: The Living Canon.
Khadijah Queen, PhD has penned six books including recent Anodyne. Her 2017 title, I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On, highlights the dangers and indignities women encounter when just existing in the world.
Jericho Brown was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 2019 collection The Tradition, which smoothly questioned our collective acceptance of casual violence.
Harryette Mullen has illustrated ideas about identity, gender expectations, entitlement, and the horrifying minutiae of American life with delightful detail since the early 90s. See her examples of her wordplay in Sleeping with the Dictionary and S*PeRM**K*T.
Hayes is a former Macarthur fellow and the author of Wind in a Box and Lighthead who references multiple traditions in his work.
Safiya Sinclair is a Jamaican poet who grapples with the concepts of womanhood, displacement, and taking up space in her work. Her imagery connects fertility to national pride and embraces traditions dismissed as “savagery.”
As a former Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress, Rita Dove was the first Black woman to hold the title.
Cortney Lamar Charleston
Cortney Lamar Charleston’s collections include Telepathologies And Doppelgangbanger. His work has also appeared in Soul Sister Revue.
Jessica Care Moore
Jessica Care Moore is the award-winning author of We Want Our Bodies Back, The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth, The Alphabet Verses The Ghetto and more. She has performed her poetry internationally at venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the London Institute of Contemporary Arts. Her independent press has published many of her fellow poets including Danny Simmons.
Douglas Kearney’s work has been featured in Best American Poetry, Best American Experimental Writing, The Creative Critic: Writing As/About Practice, What I Say: Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in America, and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. His latest collection of poetry Sho was published in April 2021.
Natasha Trethewey was named the United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2013 and was the Poet Laureate of Mississippi as well. Her collection Native Guard earned a Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
Tiphanie Yanique’s matrimony themed collection, Wife, won the Bocas Prize in Caribbean poetry and the United Kingdom’s 2016 Forward/Felix Dennis Prize for a First Collection.
Ross Gay is the author of Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. He is a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
Justin Phillip Reed
Justin Phillip Reed is the author of The Malevolent Volume Indecency and A History of Flamboyance. His affection for gore creates unforgettable moments.