Famous Black Female Poets
The voices of Black female poets have echoed in America for more than 250 years. From the beginning, they've used their words to inspire and awaken people across the globe. Many of their poems are laced with ideas of race, equity, Black joy, love, death, and more. Celebrate Black poetry by getting to know a few of the iconic, Black female poets listed below.
Phillis Wheatly is considered America’s first Black poet. As a 7-year-old, Wheatley was brought to Boston from Senegal in 1973 to become a slave. Recognized for her intelligence and her ability to write, she was educated with the Wheatley’s children. A poem she wrote as a young girl about the death of an evangelical preacher brought her acclaim and encouragement to continue writing. “On Being Brought From Africa to America” focuses on the idea that “Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land.” Wheatley died in 1784.
Jessie Redmon Fauset
In 1905, Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) graduated from Cornell University; soon afterward she became the literary editor of the NAACP journal “The Crisis,” when W. E. B. Du Bois was editor. Fauset wrote poetry that appeared in the magazine and received acclaim for such poems as “Enigma,” “Oblivion” and “Dead Fires.” She also encouraged many of the Harlem Renaissance’s poets throughout her career.
Although Maya Angelou might be best known for her autobiographical work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” it is her 1971 volume of poetry, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie” that won a Pulitzer Prize. Angelou, who was born in 1928 and died in 2014, wrote poetry throughout her life, including those collected in “I Shall Not Be Moved,” which deals with the struggle to be free in the face of racism, and “Phenomenal Women,” which is a poem assessing the place of women at the beginning of the 21st century.
Gwendolyn Brooks’ book of poetry “Annie Allen (1949)” won the Pulitzer Prize and was just one of more than 20 books of poetry she wrote over a 50-year period, including "Riot," "The Bean Eaters" and "In the Mecca." Born in Chicago, Brooks was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois in 1968 and received numerous other awards. including fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. Brooks died in 2000 at the age of 83.
The author of 17 books of poetry, Nikki Giovanni’s work often focuses on the quest for equality, beginning with “Black Feeling, Black Talk,” published in 1968. She has created spoken word recordings of many of her works, including “Truth Is On Its Way,” which features a background of gospel music. Giovanni, who was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s “Living Legends,” is a University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech.
Amanda Gorman is a well-acclaimed poet who is just 23 years old. She has written various poetry books, such as "The Hill We Climb: An Inaugural Poem for the Country" and "The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough".
Early in her career, Gorman founded the One Pen One Page program in Los Angles to provide underprivileged youth with free creative writing programs. Gorman was also the first person to earn the National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States in 2017. President Biden selected Gorman to read her poem "The Hill We Climb" at his inauguration in 2021.
Claudia Rankine is a poet, playwright, editor, and more. To date, she has published six collections of poetry, such as "Citizen: An American Lyric", "Just Us: An American Conversation", and "Don't Let Me Be Lonely".
Rankine co-founded The Racial Imaginary Institute in 2016 to address the stronghold the concept of race has on everyday life. She currently teaches as a professor of poetry at Yale University.
<!--StartFragment-->Maddie Maloy is a junior at Indiana University (IU) studying journalism and minoring in marketing and public and environmental affairs. She is passionate about advancing social justice globally through communication and storytelling. At IU, she works as a reporter for the Arnolt Center of Investigative Journalism. She also serve as the vice president and philanthropy chair for Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, Inc.<!--EndFragment-->