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.
Born Alice Ruth Moore, in New Orleans, of mixed African American, Native American, and European ancestry, Dunbar-Nelson was educated at Straight College (now Dillard University). Her Cornell master’s thesis on the influence of Milton on Wordsworth was cited at the time. A 1998-1902 marriage to poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and a later marriage to civil rights activist Robert J. Nelson are the source of her hyphenated name. She is known not only for her poetry but also for her short stories and posthumously published diary.
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.
Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, where he spent the first ten years of his life. It was long enough to absorb gospel music and the folk traditions of the South. At that point, he moved to Harlem, where he lived until joining the Air Force, a stint that included a year in the Middle East. All these experiences found a place in his poetry; "Son of Msippi" recalls his years in the South, while "Knees of a Natural Man" evokes the urban world of New York. He had spent some time at City College and at Rutgers, but never completed a degree.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Rita Dove was educated at Miami University in Ohio, the University of Tübingen in Germany, and the University of Iowa. She teaches at the University of Virginia. History and myth are frequent subjects. A book-length poem sequence, Thomas and Beulah (1986), presents her maternal grandparents' family history in the broad context of African American migration north after reconstruction. Mother Love (1995) is a contemporary retelling of the story of Demeter and Persephone.