Since early in America’s poetry, black poets have been active and crucial voices in the literary scene. Yet they have also been, for most of the nation’s history, underappreciated, sometimes even unseen. When Gwendolyn Brooks won the first Pulitzer Prize given to a black poet in 1955, it was a kind of culmination of a movement that included Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance poets, and was at a time when some of these poets found a freeer and more appreciative home outside the USA. Since the late 1960s we have seen a consistent renewal and flow of black poetry, influenced by American culture, Afro-Caribbean themes and rhythms, the history of black people in the Americas, and diasporic histories from Africa. In recent years black poetry has both led and chronicled aspects of our moment, fraught in all its difficulty. Black lives certainly matter, and some of the matter they express has taken place in some of the most brilliant and innovative poetry of our time. The course will combine presentation of recent poetry by black writers, including readings by the poets, and readings of their work; brief lectures; and time for discussion. Poets we will witness include major prize winners and underground voices, page explorers and vocal performers, poets ranging in age from 30 to 70. They are Claudia Rankine, Will Alexander, Erica Hunt, Tracie Morris, Tyehimba Jess, and giovanni singleton.
Instructor: Charles Alexander