Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always just-ice. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
-Amanda Gorman, US Presidential Inauguration 2021
The whole world cheered her on as Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to ever share a poem at a US presidential inauguration and the first person to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate. Gorman’s poem entitled The Hill We Climb in her own words “represented a moment of unity for our country” and “spoke to a new chapter and era for our nation.” Her words were well received by the nation and helped to re-elevate the status of poetry in US society. Her performance pointed to the fact that poets can find the right words to define key moments, struggles and concepts in time. Poetry can even describe ordinary life phenomena that cannot be articulated adequately through other artistic or literary forms.
The Historic Black Poetry Tradition
Poetry has long been a part of the intellectual tradition in the U.S. But often the most celebrated poets are those of European descent such as William Wordsworth, Emily Dickson, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, or Henry David Thoreau. However, just like other aspects of the black experience, African American poets have often been overlooked. Like their white counterparts in the US, there has also been a long tradition of poets throughout African American history as well. One of the most well-known black poets of the eighteenth century was the enslaved woman Phyllis Wheatley. Langston Hughes as well as other Harlem Renaissance poets, has been one of the most articulate voices in the struggle for freedom in the African American community. And perhaps the poet with the most fame in recent history is Maya Angelou. Other black poets that also deserve honorable mention are Paul Laurence Dunbar, Zora Neal Hurston, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker and Nikki Giovanni. They all fall into that long tradition of eloquent black poets in the US.
Below are great examples of African American poetry, many of the words were written by those who passed on decades or even centuries ago but are still relevant for today.
In This Place by Amanda Gorman
Other Poems by Amanda Gorman
5 more poems from Amanda Gorman to share with your kids
Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman reads “Talking Gets Us There” | PBS KIDS
Poems by Phyllis Wheatley
Poems by Langston Hughes
9 Inspiring Maya Angelou Poems You Can Read Online
Paul Laurence Dunbar Poems
LISTEN: Zora Neale Hurston Performs Folk Poetry and Song from her Native Florida
Alice Walker Poems That Everyone Needs to Read
Five Politically-Inspired Poems by Audre Lorde
The Best Poems by Nikki Giovanni That Made Her a Legend
Here we have included lesson plans and teaching resources that allow educators to integrate the work of African American poets into their teaching.
Lesson Plan: Discuss Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem “The Hill We Climb”
Teaching Guide: Exploring the Poetry of Maya Angelou
More Teaching Resources for Nikki Giovanni
Various Works by Nikki Giovanni
Alice Walker Teacher Resources
Paul Laurence Dunbar Teacher Resources
Lesson Plan: Zora Neale Hurston Resource Page
Phillis Wheatley Lesson Plans and other Teaching Resources