Black Female Poets You Need to Add to Your Bookshelf

For some people, when the light in the tunnel seems dim, they turn to music. Some people turn to paint a white canvas with colors that illustrate how they feel. But since the age of 11, I turn the pages of the poetry books. I was taught about Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and other white poets that shaped English literature. The names of Black female poets did not come up until I searched for them independently. You shouldn't have to search for these women; they should be plastered on billboards and engrained in curriculums. Here are some women and the words they contributed to this world. 

 

Maya Angelou 

You may recognize this name, seeing as though Maya Angelou changed the world of poetry with her words. Her work was not limited to just poetry: She also contributed autobiographies, essays, children's books and cookbooks to the world. And she was also a historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director (The first Black woman director in Hollywood), performer, singer and civil rights activist.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

 

Gwendolyn Brooks 

Gwendolyn Brooks published her first poem, "Eventide," at age 13, two years older than when I began writing. I couldn't imagine being that confident in my work at that age, and it inspired me to dive into her work. Brooks was the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize and the first Black woman to be the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. At 17, her poems were in the newspaper geared towards Chicago's Black population, Chicago Defender.

truth

And if sun comes

How shall we greet him?

Shall we not dread him,

Shall we not fear him

After so lengthy a

Session with shade?

 

Though we have wept for him,

Though we have prayed

All through the night-years—

What if we wake one shimmering morning to

Hear the fierce hammering

Of his firm knuckles

Hard on the door?

 

Shall we not shudder?—

Shall we not flee

Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter

Of the familiar

Propitious haze?

 

Sweet is it, sweet is it

To sleep in the coolness

Of snug unawareness.

 

The dark hangs heavily

Over the eyes.

 

Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez is a poet, mother and professor who is extremely passionate about women's liberation, world peace and racial justice. Sanchez is one of 20 African-American women featured in "Freedom Sisters," an exhibition in the Cincinnati Museum Center and Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. She has received countless awards for her work and is referred to as one of the 20th and 21st centuries' best poets. 

Black Magic

magic

my man

is you

turning my body into

a thousand

smiles. black

magic is your

touch making

me breathe.

 

Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire gained recognition when "For Women Who Are Difficult to Love" went viral in 2011. I will let this one speak for itself: 

For Women Who Are Difficult to Love

you are a horse running alone

and he tries to tame you

compares you to an impossible highway

to a burning house

says you are blinding him

that he could never leave you

forget you

want anythng but you

you dizzy him, you are unbearable

every woman before or after you

is doused in your name

you fill his mouth

his teeth ache with memory of taste