African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song (LOA #333)

A Library of America Anthology

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Pub Date 20 Oct 2020 | Archive Date 24 May 2021

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A literary landmark: the biggest, most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published, gathering 250 poets from the colonial period to the present

Across a turbulent history, from such vital centers as Harlem, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, Black poets created a rich and multifaceted tradition that has been both a reckoning with American realities and an imaginative response to them. Capturing the power and beauty of this diverse tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry reveals as never before its centrality and its challenge to American poetry and culture.

One of the great American art forms, African American poetry encompasses many kinds of verse: formal, experimental, vernacular, lyric, and protest. The anthology opens with moving testaments to the power of poetry as a means of self-assertion, as enslaved people like Phillis Wheatley and George Moses Horton and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper voice their passionate resistance to slavery. Young’s fresh, revelatory presentation of the Harlem Renaissance reexamines the achievements of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen alongside works by lesser-known poets such as Gwendolyn B. Bennett and Mae V. Cowdery. The later flowering of the still influential Black Arts Movement is represented here with breadth and originality, including many long out-of-print or hard-to-find poems.

Here are all the significant movements and currents: the nineteenth-century Francophone poets known as Les Cenelles, the Chicago Renaissance that flourished around Gwendolyn Brooks, the early 1960s Umbra group, and the more recent work of writers affiliated with Cave Canem and the Dark Room Collective. Here too are poems of singular, hard-to-classify figures: the enslaved potter David Drake, the allusive modernist Melvin B. Tolson, the Cleveland-based experimentalist Russell Atkins. This Library of America volume also features biographies of each poet and notes that illuminate cultural references and allusions to historical events.
A literary landmark: the biggest, most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published, gathering 250 poets from the colonial period to the present

Across a turbulent history, from such vital...

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ISBN 9781598536669
PRICE $45.00 (USD)
PAGES 1150

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Featured Reviews

Editor Kevin Young has assembled both a breadth and depth of poetry in this volume that represents a range of African American experiences over time. Highly recommended as both a personal and classroom resource, and packed with amazing work.

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This is the most definitive African American poetry anthology I have read. The collection contains some familiar and often anthologized poems and poets. It is the not so familiar poems and poets that are within this anthology that are the most intriguing. The anthology is divided into eight sections. Each of the sections covers a time period characterized by the types of poems produced during the era. Editor, Kevin Young explains each of these sections masterfully in the introduction of the anthology. He also describes how each time period influenced or was influenced by other periods. For anyone interested in African American poetry, this is a must have anthology!

I was given the opportunity to review an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.

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A wonderful and excellent selection of poetry that I hope I can explore with my students in the coming years. It has been such a beautiful read over the past few days and loved the array of styles and voices throughout the anthology.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song is a wonderful expression of everything that made me love literature starting in elementary school into adulthood. I owe my passion of books to many of the same poems in African American Poetry. Specifically, The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes a poem I have loved since my middle school years in Buffalo, NY. Many of the poems honor the culture, the music, the energy of New York, specifically New York City. This is a book to read and recite over dinner and wine, with friends and family during the holidays, and as a treasured moment with our children.

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Thanks to #Netgalley for making this book available to me.
This is a collection of poems by African American poets who write about their experience living in American, their experience with racial inequality, motherhood, and the fear of raising children in a country infested with discrimination and marginalized profiling that leads to death of millions of sons and daughters.
I cannot express enough the importance of this book and the impression it made and I have also been introduced to a lot of new poets, one of them is Khadijah Queen whose prose addresses loss of the sense of self and that of family and the retention she wears to deflect from her problem in order to allow the focus to be moved to police brutality and the devastating effects it has on families and how sadness, tears, and marches are not an antidote or a treatment of pain experience for over 25o years.
There are so many poems that speak volumes about the black experience including those who were able to build things up from the ground and others whose hard work was overshadowed and burnt to the ground like it was in Tulsa.
There is a poem by Clint Smith that addresses the injustice that Colin Kaepernick was dealt with in his poem "Your National Anthem". A child will grow, he won't remain a boy that you think is cute, because someday he would begin to ask for his right to live, then he is threatening and not so cute anymore.
I also really enjoyed Yusef Komunyakaa's poems such as "Annabelle" and "More Girl Than Boy" there is also Carl Phillips's poem "Blue" which struck a chord with me.
I hope you check this book out upon its release.

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Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill,
Make it among earth's humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

"Bury Me in a Free Land"
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young is a Library of America Publication.  Young was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. He studied under Seamus Heaney and Lucie Brock-Broido at Harvard University and, while a student there, became a member of the Dark Room Collective, a community of African American writers. He was awarded a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and later earned an MFA from Brown University.

This analogy presents the poetry in separate sections, but reading the collection all the way through, which usually isn't done, the poetry becomes a tree.  The roots are firmly planted in slaveholding America, both North, and South.  From there, it develops and branches out.  Freedom and religion forming the first branching in the poetry.  There is a connection to America even though the troubles run deep. Phillis Wheatley, the first black poet to publish a collection of poetry, earned fame in England and the Colonies.  She received the praise of George Washington as well as writing him a letter/poem when he was still a general in the army.  That event came around again in 1993 with Maya Angelou's inaugural poem at President Clinton's ceremony in 1993.  There is an investment in America that not only can't be repaid but is often just ignored:

""My history-moulding ancestors
Planted the first crops of wheat on these shores,
Built ships to conquer the seven seas,
Erected the Cotton Empire,
Flung railroads across a hemisphere,
Disemboweled the earth's iron and coal,
Tunneled the mountains and bridged rivers,
Harvested the grain and hewed forests,
Sentineled the Thirteen Colonies,
Unfurled Old Glory at the North Pole,
Fought a hundred battles for the Republic.""

Melvin B. Tolson, "Dark Symphony"

After the First World War and the experience of real freedom and equality from the French, but not Americans, a new breed of poetry evolves.  Jazz and the Rise of the Harlem Renaissance bring new poets and a new boldness.  Langston Hughes, although thoroughly modern, pays tribute to the past in language, which contemporary society saw as crudeness rather than a homage to the past. He remains modern but connected to the roots of African-American poetry.  The following section is the Chicago Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement.  Poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and beat poet Bob Kaufman rise in popularity and new branches grow.  The fifteen years between 1960 and 1975 is an outburst of political poetry lead by Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez.  The poetry then moves to the more complex with poets like Yusef Komunyakaa and (Pulitzer Prize winner) Rita Dove.  

The anthology ends with more current poets.  There is a blossoming of talent that reminds us of the past-- both in failures in society and tributes to the heroes.  Kevin Young wrote his introduction on Juneteeth, 2020, and closes with thoughts on racist violence that still exist in America.  The reader may think if only he waited, maybe this could be fixed in the next election in a few months. But, it has been a few months for two hundred and fifty years.  An excellent collection of poetry that is also the American history we like to forget.

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I read the book was edited by Kevin Young and knew the book was going to be great. The book stood out my expectations, its incredibly wonderful. Anyways who's fan of 'Best American Poetry' series definitely needs to have this book.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Library of America for a gifted eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Kevin Young has a smooth writing style that flows similarly to a poem. He gives a great general overview of each section with information about the poets and the effect of their writing during that time period. Overall this is an incredible anthology of African American poetry from so many different time periods. It has a mixture of well known and lesser-unknown poets and does an amazing job of featuring them all. Kevin Young put together an invaluable resource.

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This book is important. For someone, who have only known racism from 3rd point of view, this book is an introduction to the black struggles in their everyday lives. African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song sets a new standard for a genuinely deep engagement with Black poetry and its essential expression of American genius

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A wonderfully thorough and comprehensive compendium of some of the most important African-American poets of the past 250 years. The volume starts with Phillis Wheatley and branches out into so many wonderful writers. This book is fantastic for a college-level poetry course and a mandatory read for any poetry lover. Five stars!

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This is an incredibly thorough, organized, remarkable anthology. The diversity of time period, style, experience, and voice is stunning, and I'm so impressed with how well it's been curated. I know I'm a bit of a weirdo when it comes to anthologies; I read all 1000 pages from cover to cover, and it was an amazing experience. Every library, every classroom, and every poetry lover's bookshelf needs this book.

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Library of America's African Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, edited by Kevin Young, is a mammoth piece of work, essential for anyone interested in the ways poets address the issues of their times. At 1,170 pages, it offers an expansive reading experience. One can, of course, work one's way through it chronologically, not just observing changes is perspective, but also in poetic form. But one can also seek out poems from a specific region or on a specific topic. And it's a great title just for flipping through and reading whatever pieces present themselves. This is the kind of book to keep at one's bedside and savored a bit at a time.

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Kevin Young has done it again. This anthology is essential for any library collection and is an amazing resource for both schools, adult learners and poetry enthusiasts.

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