The African American Experience: Poetry for Adults

The African American Experience blog photo

Explore the creative voices of African American writers in verse. From the 1919 Chicago Race Riots to the rural and Appalachian south to a sci-fi look at the future, the following collections of poems explore the diverse experiences of African Americans.

 

The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop

The first anthology of poems by and for the hip-hop generation. It includes more than four decades of poets and covers the birth to the now of hip-hop culture and music and style. The BreakBeat Poets is for people who love Hip-Hop, for fans of the culture, for people who’ve never read a poem, for people who thought poems were only something done by dead white dudes who got lost in a forest, and for poetry heads. This anthology is meant to expand the idea of who a poet is and what a poem is for.

 

The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic

Black Girl Magic continues and deepens the work of the first BreakBeat Poets anthology by focusing on some of the most exciting Black women writing today. This anthology breaks up the myth of hip-hop as a boys’ club, and asserts the truth that the cypher is a feminine form.

 

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker stands at the intersections of vulnerability and performance, of desire and disgust,of tragedy and excellence. Unrelentingly feminist,tender, ruthless, and sequined, these poems are an altarto the complexities of black American womanhood inan age of non-indictments and deja vu, and a time ofwars over bodies and power.

 

Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Award-winning collection of essays, poetry, and images that expose the racial tensions in twenty-first century life, highlighting the slights, slips of the tongue, and intentional offensives that pervade the home, school, and popular media.

 

Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange

In a collection of more than 60 original and selected poems in both English and Spanish, a poet, novelist and award-winning playwright, drawing from her experience as a feminist black woman in America, shares her utterly unique, unapologetic and deeply emotional writing that has made her one of the most iconic literary figures of our time.

 

1919 by Eve Ewing

The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the most intense of the riots that comprised the “Red Summer” of violence across the nation’s cities, is an event that has shaped the last century but is widely unknown. In 1919, award-winning poet Eve L. Ewing explores the story of this event―which lasted eight days and resulted in thirty-eight deaths and almost 500 injuries―through poems recounting the stories of everyday people trying to survive and thrive in the city. Ewing uses speculative and Afrofuturist lenses to recast history, and illuminates the thin line between the past and the present.

 

Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith

A National Book Award finalist and the author of six critically acclaimed volumes of poetry presents a compelling new collection that envisions, re-envisions and ultimately reinvents the role of witness with an incendiary fusion of forms, including prose poems, ghazals, sestinas and sonnets.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

In these brilliant new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant, and revisits the kitschy concepts like “love” and “illness” now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence. Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.

 

Build Yourself a Boat by Camonghne Felix

This is about what grows through the wreckage. This is an anthem of survival and a look at what might come after. A view of what floats and what, ultimately, sustains. Build Yourself a Boat redefines the language of collective and individual trauma through lyric and memory.

 

On the Bus with Rosa Parks: Poems by Rita Dove

In these brilliant poems, Rita Dove treats us to a panoply of human endeavor, shot through with the electrifying jazz of her lyric elegance. From the opening sequence, “Cameos”, to the civil rights struggle of the final sequence, she explores the intersection of individual fate and history.

 

Affrilachia: Poems by Frank X. Walker

Frank X Walker’s path breaking book of poems Affrilachia is a classic of Appalachian and African-American literature. Walker created the word “Affrilachia” to help make visible the experience of African-Americans living in the rural and Appalachian South. The book is widely used in classrooms and is one of the foundational works of the Affrilachian Poets, a community of writers offering fresh ways to think about diversity in the Appalachian region and beyond.

 

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

Nearly ninety years after its first publication, this celebratory edition of The Weary Blues reminds us of the stunning achievement of Langston Hughes, who was just twenty-four at its first appearance. Beginning with the opening “Proem” (prologue poem)–“I am a Negro: / Black as the night is black, / Black like the depths of my Africa”–Hughes spoke directly, intimately, and powerfully of the experiences of African Americans at a time when their voices were newly being heard in our literature. 

 

The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks

“If you wanted a poem,” wrote Gwendolyn Brooks, “you only had to look out of a window. There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.” From the life of Chicago’s South Side she made a forceful and passionate poetry that fused Modernist aesthetics with African-American cultural tradition, a poetry that registered the life of the streets and the upheavals of the 20th century. Starting with A Street in Bronzeville (1945), her epoch-making debut volume, The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks traces the full arc of her career in all its ambitious scope and unexpected stylistic shifts.

 

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes

In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. These poems are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares.

 

Shahid Reads His Own Palm by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Gripping and terrifying, eloquent and heart wrenching, this debut collection delves into hellish territory: prison life. Soulful poems somberly capture time-bending experiences and the survivalist mentality needed to live a contradiction, confronting both daily torment and one’s illogical fear of freedom.

 

Fast Animal by Tim Seibles

This collection explores a range of poetic forms, including lyric, ode, narrative, and mystical. Like a “fast animal,” the poet’s voice can swiftly change direction and tone as he crisscrosses between present and past. 2012 National Book Award Finalist in Poetry

 

Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer by Maya Angelou

Grace, dignity, and eloquence have long been hallmarks of Maya Angelou’s poetry. Her measured verses have stirred our souls, energized our minds, and healed our hearts. Whether offering hope in the darkest of nights or expressing sincere joy at the extraordinariness of the everyday, Maya Angelou has served as our common voice. Celebrations is a collection of timely and timeless poems that are an integral part of the global fabric. Several works have become nearly as iconic as Angelou herself: the inspiring “On the Pulse of Morning,” read at President William Jefferson Clinton’s 1993 inauguration; the heartening “Amazing Peace,” presented at the 2005 lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the White House; “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which marked the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations; and “Mother,” which beautifully honors the first woman in our lives.

 

Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni

Giovanni demands that the prosaic—flowers, food, birdsong, winter—be seen as poetic, and reaffirms once again why she is as energetic, “remarkable” (Gwendolyn Brooks), “wonderful” (Marian Wright Edelman),”outspoken, prolific, energetic” (New York Times), and relevant as ever.

 

Silencer by Marcus Wicker

Welcome to Marcus Wicker’s Midwest, where the muzzle is always on and where silence and daily microaggressions can chafe away at the faith of a young man grieved by images of gun violence and police brutality in twenty-first-century America. Precisely contradictory, bittersweet, witty, and heartbreaking, Silencer is where the political and the personal collide. Driven by the sounds of hip-hop and reimagined forms and structures, Wicker’s explosive second book is composed of poems at war with themselves, verses in which the poet questions his own faith in God, in hope, in the American Dream, and in himself. Pushing our ideas of traditions and expectations, these poems and queries work in concert towards creating a new dialectic.

 

Olio by Tyehimba Jess

Part fact, part fiction, Tyehimba Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.

 

Looking for more reading suggestions? Visit What Do I Read Next? to receive personalized recommendations from JMRL librarians.

 

About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

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