Janice N. Harrington was born in Vernon, Alabama, and grew up there and in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is a poet, a children’s book author, and a professional storyteller. A former librarian, she now teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The two poems here are reprinted from her book Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone (2007).
Claudia Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Jamaica and New York City. She was educated at Williams College and Columbia University. She has taught at Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, University of Georgia, and in the writing program at the University of Houston. She now teaches at Pomona College. She is a poet, editor, playwright, and multimedia artist. Politically astute and invariably ironic about contemporary American life, she tracks its effects on language, institutions, and cultural understanding.
Derek Walcott was born in 1930 in the town of Castries in Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. The experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott's life and work. Both his grandmothers were said to have been the descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Derek and his twin brother, Roderick, were only a few years old. His mother ran the town's Methodist school. He studied at St.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois is perhaps America’s single most influential black writer. His analytical and autobiographical The Souls of Black Folk (1903) introduced the defining concept of a racialized double-consciousness.
There are three overarching subjects in Natasha Trethewey’s work—history, the arts, and the social construction of her own family’s identity and experience. Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on Confederate Memorial Day, exactly 100 years after it was first celebrated. Her parents—a black mother and a white father—had been married illegally a year before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia.
The son of former slaves, Paul Laurence Dunbar was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. His father had escaped from Kentucky to serve in a Massachusetts regiment during the Civil War. He began writing poetry in high school and eventually acquired a large multiracial audience. By late nineteenth century standards, Dunbar's work was steadfast both in its black pride and its rejection of racism. Yet during the Harlem Renaissance, his dialect poetry would win praise from Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown, while meeting severe criticism from James Weldon Johnson and others.
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas. Her mother was a schoolteacher, her father a janitor. The family moved to Chicago almost immediately, and there Brooks spent most of her life. She attended Wilson Junior College in the mid-1930s, meanwhile meeting and being encouraged by James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. She also wrote a poetry column for the Chicago Defender.
Born in Giddings, Texas, Bennett and her family moved to Nevada and Washington, D.C, before the marriage broke up and her father took her to Pennsylvania and then Brooklyn, New York. She studied fine arts at both Columbia University and Pratt Institute. While teaching art at Howard University she won a scholarship to study in Paris for a year. She had published "Heritage" in 1923, and when she returned to Harlem in 1926 she continued doing both literary and graphic work for magazines like Opportunity and Crisis.
Sterling A. Brown was born and raised in the strictly segregated Washington, D.C., of the first decades of the century. His family was middle class (his father was a professor of religion), and he was educated at Williams College and Harvard. There he read the new American poetry of early modernism and was struck especially by the use of the vernacular in Frost, Sandburg, and others. To this he would add knowledge of black folk traditions sought out in the southern countryside during several college teaching jobs in the 1920s.