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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.


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