Celebrating National Black Poet Day: 10 Black Poets You Should Know

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I often get annoyed with these National Days that seem to be every day, but there are some I do actually enjoy. One is today. National Black Poet Day was established in 1985. The day is designed to celebrate the importance of black heritage and literacy. We should also celebrate the contributions made by these black poets. The day is recognized in honor of our country's first black poet, Jupiter Hammon. October 17 was chosen because it was the day he was born in 1711. In honor of Jupiter Hammon and National Black Poet Day here are 10 black poets you should know for their brilliance in the world of poetry and their contribution to the community:

  1. Gwendolyn Brooks: Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Her winning poem was "Annie Allen." 

  2. Alice Walker: Alice Walker widely known for her famous and award winning book Color Purple. She also wrote many of her first poetry books while being a college student at Sarah Lawrence College. She is an advocate for Social Justice and many of her poems speak to the harsh realities of the civil rights movement.

  3. Nikki Giovanni: Nikki Giovanni is well known for her poetry which speaks to race and social issues. She has also written for children’s literature. She is arguably one of the most famous African American poets. She was nominated for a Grammy for her album: The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collections. She is currently a Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech University.

  4. Sonia Sanchez: I was introduced to Sonia Sanchez by her book Shake Loose My Skin. She is a well known poet, who is credited for introducing black-studies courses into university curricula. She has written 18 books of poetry.

  5. Etheridge Knight: Previously married to poet Sonia Sanchez, Etheridge Knight is well known for his 1968 debut poetry Poems from Prison. This was inspired by his eight year long prison stint for robbery back in 1960s. He is one of the most powerful voices in black poetry. While known as a stalwart of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He also spent some time in Indianapolis IN.

  6. Mari Evans: Born in Toledo Ohio; however, she is most certainly considered a Hoosier. She taught at IUPUI from 1969-1970. She later moved to Bloomington to teach African-American Literature at Indiana University.  From 1968 to 1973, she produced, wrote and directed the television program The Black Experience in Indianapolis. It was her second collection of poems in 1970 I am a Black Woman that gained her national attention. She died in March 10, 2017 at the age of 97.

  7. Rita Dove: She was the second African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Thomas and Beulah. She is the first black poet laureate in the country. Many of her poems focus on her personal experiences as well as some politics. She is currently a professor at the University of Virginia.

  8. Lucille Clifton: Lucille Clifton is a winner of the National Book Award. She was also a poet laureate of Maryland. Her work has earned her two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. She is well known for her work around spirituality, womanhood and African-American identity.

  9. Maya Angelou: Maya Angelou’s work speaks for itself. She is the “Queen” “The Godmother” of Black Poetry. She is truly one of the gems of not only black poetry community, but the black community. Oprah said it best when she said, “She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.” Her work lives on in so many ways. Phenomenal Woman was a book to celebrate women and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings illustrated how love can help overcome racism, oppression, and trauma.

  10. Langston Hughes: In 1951 Langston Hughes, “The Father of Black Poetry” wrote "What Happens to a Dream Deferred?" One of his best known lines and arguably one of the best poetry lines in history. He is synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance. His work has inspired generations of black poets.

On this day, I encourage everyone to find a work by these great poets and share it and read it with your students.




David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.