Cover image for African American poets : lives, works, and sources
African American poets : lives, works, and sources
Pettis, Joyce Owens.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 357 pages : portraits ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS153.N5 P48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating
PS153.N5 P48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

On Order



Covering 46 poets from more than two centuries of African American literary history, this biocritical dictionary is an important contribution to any reference collection. The poets are situated within their historical and literary context, and for each a brief biographical sketch is given, with information on the poet's personal history, education, influences, and accomplishments. Each entry examines the poet's work as a whole, with a discussion of selected important poems and their recurrent themes. Students and interested readers will gain a good appreciation for the stylistic features and artistic contributions made by these African American poets. For further research, each essay concludes with a list of the poet's published book-length works, anthologies where their poetry appears, and information on reference resources.

This reference work is introduced with an insightful overview of the significant developments and contributions in African American poetry, from the 18th century poetry of Phillis Wheatley, through the major arts movements including the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movements of the 1960s, up to the present time. This thoughtful dictionary explores both the aesthetic and the social functions of the literary movements, as well as the individual poet's contributions to the body of poetic output. Covered here are numerous contemporary African American voices such as Maya Angelou, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Rita Dove. Alongside the names synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance, such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes, are lesser known poets about whom students often have trouble finding information but whose contributions are no less significant.

Author Notes

JOYCE PETTIS is Professor of English at North Carolina State University, where she teaches courses in African American Literature. She is the author of numerous articles on Margaret Walker, Charles Chestnutt, and others, and of the award winning Toward Wholeness in Paule Marshall's Fiction .

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Audre Lorde, in an essay entitled "Poetry Is Not a Luxury," stated, "Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before." This is especially true for African American poets, who have the added weight of a history of bondage and inequality to inform their art. The 46 poets examined here range from Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley in the eighteenth century to contemporary poets such as Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, and Quincy Troupe. Each entry begins with birth and death dates and a photograph of the poet, when available. After a brief overview, there is a discussion of the poet's work, including the main themes, and an analysis of selected major works. Each entry ends with a list of book-length works, where applicable; anthologies that include the poet's works; and references for further reading. The entries range from very short (2 pages) to lengthy (11 pages), averaging 8 pages. The book concludes with a list of 37 anthologies for further research and a complete index. This book is a clear and understandable resource for students in high school and college to use to begin a research project on any of the poets. Unfortunately, samples of the poetry discussed are not included, which can be a drawback for students. Many of the same poets are covered in other works, such as African American Writers: A Dictionary (ABC-CLIO, 2000) and volumes in Gale's Contemporary Authors series. This work will be most useful for school and public libraries that do not have other resources for biographical and critical information on African American poets.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-A comprehensive snapshot of African-American poets and poetry from the 18th century to the present. Pettis's introduction gives a thorough overview of its evolution from a "politically active art form" to an intimate means of exploring "personal issues." The alphabetically arranged entries cover prolific poets such as Maya Angelou, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Nikki Giovanni, as well as lesser-known writers such as Jupiter Hammon, who published in the 1700s, and Ai, a 1999 National Book Award winner. Most entries are accompanied by a black-and-white photograph of the poet; all include biographical information, literary criticism, comparisons to other writers of the time, references to specific works, and any awards or honors the poet has received. Historical context is explored, as are any noted literary influences. Every selection is followed by an extensive bibliography; an index and table of contents allow readers to search by author, subject, or work. The scope and depth of this book make it extremely useful.-Julie Webb, Shelby County High School, Shelbyville, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Ai (1947- )p. 1
Maya Angelou (1928- )p. 9
Amiri Baraka (1934- )p. 18
Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)p. 26
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)p. 32
Sterling Brown (1901-1989)p. 41
Lucille Clifton (1936- )p. 49
Wanda Coleman (1946- )p. 60
Jayne Cortez (1936- )p. 66
Countee Cullen (1903-1946)p. 73
Toi Derricotte (1941- )p. 81
Rita Dove (1952- )p. 89
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)p. 99
Cornelius Eady (1954- )p. 107
Mari Evans (n.d.- )p. 114
Nikki Giovanni (1943- )p. 121
Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806)p. 131
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1824-1911)p. 134
Michael S. Harper (1938- )p. 141
Robert Hayden (1913-1980)p. 149
George Moses Horton (1797?-1883?)p. 157
Langston Hughes (1902-1968)p. 162
Georgia Douglas Johnson (1886-1966)p. 171
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)p. 177
June Jordan (1936- )p. 185
Etheridge Knight (1931-1991)p. 193
Yusef Komunyakaa (1947- )p. 201
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)p. 209
Nathaniel Mackey (1947- )p. 217
Haki Madhubuti (1942- )p. 225
Colleen J. McElroy (1936- )p. 232
Claude McKay (1889-1948)p. 239
E. Ethelbert Miller (1950- )p. 247
Thylias Moss (1954- )p. 255
Marilyn Nelson (1946- )p. 262
Dudley Randall (1914- )p. 270
Ishmael Reed (1938- )p. 277
Carolyn Rodgers (1945- )p. 285
Sonia Sanchez (1934- )p. 291
Melvin B. Tolson (1900-1966)p. 300
Jean Toomer (1894-1967)p. 307
Quincy Troupe (1943- )p. 314
Margaret Abigail Walker (1915-1998)p. 322
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)p. 329
Jay Wright (1935- )p. 336
Al Young (1939- )p. 344
Selected Anthologiesp. 351
Indexp. 353