When Amanda Gorman ascended to the steps of our nation’s capital she did so standing on the shoulders of Black women who have captured the spirit of momentous occasions in black and white for generations.
Gorman contributed to a rich legacy that includes Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Tracy K. Smith, Maya Angelou and more when she became the youngest National Poet Laureate. Her thoughtful description of our “unfinished,” nation and recognition of a light that is occasionally obstructed but never snuffed out infused hope into our country for six full minutes.
Poet laureates are not just trotted out every four years. They’re actively creating in cities across the country, crystallizing the markers that make up our collective history. Their commitment and accessibility inspire all who are lucky enough to encounter their words at city council meetings and academy graduations.
“I would be nowhere without the women whose footsteps I dance in,” Gorman tweeted while thanking the millions of newcomers eager to learn more about her work after she participated in the inauguration. “While reciting my poem, I wore a ring with a caged bird—a gift from @Oprah for the occasion, to symbolize Maya Angelou, a previous inaugural poet. Here’s to the women who have climbed my hills before.”
Gorman, who also made history when she was appointed our country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate, isn’t twirling in those footsteps alone. Her success represents a movement of Black women nourishing their communities through their art every day in libraries, bookstores, and at community events.
Meet five Black other women in poetry you need to know now.
If your grandmother has ever surprised you by bopping along to trap music at a cookout you will love Jasmine Mans’ work. She is the resident poet at the Newark Public Library and describes what it’s like to be a daughter of Newark in ways that echo every Black metropolis in America.
Mans released her debut collection of poetry, “Chalk Outlines of Snow Angels,” in 2012. Her follow-up, “Black Girl, Call Home,” is coming March 9, 2021.
Monet made a splash in the New York City arts scene when she became the youngest poet to be named the Nuyorican Poets Café Grand Slam Champion at just 19 years old. Roxane Gay and Ava Duvernay are both fans of her work.
Her collection, “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter,” demands that we all fight to be better to one another and is available now.
Felix’s “Build Yourself A Boat” uses lyrical tactics to deconstruct trauma response in an exciting new way. She was featured in the 2010 HBO series Brave New Voices and her words helped bring additional attention to the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Jackson was the third ever National Youth Poet Laureate, earning that title in 2019 after being named the 2018 Youth Poet Laureate of Chicago. She asserted her right to duality in her book “Bloodstone Cowboy” in 2019.
Staceyann Chin spoke truth to power in a series of raw one-liners in “Crossfire: A Litany for Survival in 2019.” Her memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise,” tapped into the firey lineage that inspires her work.