Audre Lorde, a famous black lesbian feminist poet, ends her poem “A Woman Speaks” with the lines, “I am/woman/and not white.” What may come off as obvious or overly simplistic in this statement actually speaks to larger structures of power that operate within feminist and anti-racist movement discourses. By claiming her womanhood and her non-whiteness, Lorde understands herself as an individual with identities that intersect, overlap, and inherently affect one another.
To simultaneously end Black History Month and begin Women’s History Month, I present to you some of my favorite black women poets whose work is in sync with Lorde’s. These women have undoubtedly shaped the written and spoken word, have made unparalleled contributions to historical movements, and have continually influenced my own writing.
June Jordan, a radical black feminist author, educator, and activist, was born on July 9, 1936 in Harlem, New York. I was introduced to her work through a professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Connecticut and immediately fell in love. Her poetry focuses on race, racism, womanhood, sexism, bisexuality, homoantagonism, sexual violence, and police brutality. The Poetry Foundation refers to her as, “one of the most widely-published and highly-acclaimed African American writers of her generation.” Listen to this clip of Jordan reading her poem, “Poem About My Rights.”
Nikki Giovanni was born on June 7, 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee. After receiving a book of African American poetry Giovanni edited, I became super interested in her aesthetic as a poet (the book she edited is “The 100 Best African American Poems” and I HIGHLY recommend checking it out). Also, check out this clip of her reading her poem, “Ego Tripping.”
Ntozake Shange was born on October 18, 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that the first time I heard of her was when Tyler Perry made her choreopoem for colored girls who have consider suicide/when the rainbow is enuf into a feature length film, so circa 2010. Nonetheless, I am so fortunate to have discovered her. Her work is innovative, engaging, and, most of all, curative for all black girls suffering under different systems of oppression. In this video, she reads the final poem in for colored girls… titled “a laying on of hands.”
If you have not experienced the power that is Dominique Christina, I sincerely suggest you do so now. She is an absolutely phenomenal poet and performer, as can be noted by her five national poetry slam titles. Her work has literally moved me to tears on multiple occasions. Check out her poem, “For Emmett Till” below.
Warsan Shire was born in 1988 in Kenya. She has an impeccable control of language and all of her work is so beautifully poignant that you feel it all over your insides. I am absolutely infatuated with her book Teaching my Mother How to Give Birth and would recommend you putting it on your bucket list of “things to read.” Take a look at her wonderfully put-together video for her poem, “for women who are difficult to love.”
These are just a few poets that I have been really feeling lately, but some other amazing black women poets I recommend checking out are: Audre Lorde, Staceyann Chin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nayyirah Waheed, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Lucille Clifton, and Marilyn Nelson.