Teaching with Poetry: Amanda Gorman and the Historic Black Poetry Tradition

Poet Amanda Gorman performs "The Hill We Climb" during the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

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


  1. Poetry is something that I really enjoy reading and I love Maya Angelou’s work. When reading the list of poets both white and black I realized that I recognized more of the white poets’ names than the black and that is because they are the poets I remember studying in school. There needs to be diversity in the curriculum and the lesson plans at the bottom are a great start to this by allowing for teachers to integrate more black poets into the poetry unit. There are tons of poems in the world today so why do we limit our readings to just poems written by white people? Amanda Gorman was the youngest poet to ever share a poem at the presidential inauguration and the first person to be named the National Youth Poet Laureate, which two huge things and they should be talked about more. It would be great to teach students about her and to share her poem with future generations.

  2. Though poetry wasn’t something I liked when I was younger. This article is correct. Poets can describe things in their poems that can’t be described through regular words. I didn’t understand this until I went to a slam poetry session. One of the poets describes beauty as something you can feel, instead of words that you just hear.

  3. This was a good article, and I’m not a fan of poetry. I have never heard of any of these people, but even in this article it talks about the black community getting overlooked because the color of their skin. People need to realize that we all bleed the same, and race doesn’t matter.

  4. This was a great article. I have heard of Phillis Wheatley and Langston Hughes, but I didn’t know the other black American poets that were mentioned. I will definitely do my research on the others because I am interested in reading some of their poetry. I like how Dr. Childs said that poetry is an ordinary life phenomenon because I never really thought about it that way, but it really is. Where else can someone get away with rhyming a bunch words without sounding ridiculous or using the power of words to make someone feel something they have never felt in real life? I love poetry and I want to pass down that love to my future students. I more than likely will use the resources proved in the bottom of the article for future lesson plans.

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