Black Poetry Day
Created by Bob Helmbrecht, collection development librarian
Black Poetry Day is an unofficial holiday celebrated each year on October 17. The day was chosen because it is the anniversary of the birth of Jupiter Hammon, on October 17, 1711. Hammon is believed to be the first African American born in the Americas to have published a poem. He published his first poem, “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen’s Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760,” in 1760.
His most influential work is considered to be his sermon “Address to Negroes of the State of New-York,” which he presented at a meeting of the African Society in 1786. The speech was published and reprinted by several abolitionist groups.
Black Poetry Day was established by the efforts of Stanley Ransom Jr., director of the Huntingdon Library in New York. Ransom edited a collection of Hammon’s few surviving poems and essays in 1970 and wanted to observe Black Poetry Day as a way to bring more attention to the works of African-American poets and to Jupiter Hammon.
The Library has many works by African-American authors in our collections, both classic and contemporary. Here are just a few:
- “American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries” from The Library of America
You can read Jupiter Hammon’s poem “An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly, Ethiopian Poetess, in Boston” in this book.
- “Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry” edited by Charles Henry Rowell
A collection of poems from 1960 to the present highlights the political, social, economic, and personal struggles of African Americans, and features works from such poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, and Major Jackson.
- “The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry” edited by Arnold Rampersad
For over two centuries, black poets have captured the sorrows, joys, and triumphs of the African-American experience. Reflecting their visions and styles, this anthology offers nothing less than a definitive literary portrait of a people.
- “The Complete Poetry” by Maya Angelou
Throughout her illustrious career in letters, Maya Angelou gifted, healed, and inspired the world with her words. Now the beauty and spirit of those words live on in this new and complete collection of poetry that reflects and honors the writer’s remarkable life.
- “The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks” by Gwendolyn Brooks
The classic volume by the distinguished modern poet and winner of the 1950 Pulitzer Prize that represents her technical mastery, her compassionate and illuminating response to a world that is both special and universal, and her warm humanity.
- “The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013” by Derek Walcott
A collection spanning the range of the Nobel Prize-winning writer’s career includes his first published poem, “In My Eighteenth Year;” his first widely celebrated verses on the violence in Africa; his mature work from “The Star-Apple Kingdom;” and his late masterpieces from “White Egrets.”
- “The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, 1968-1998” by Nikki Giovanni
A complete poetry collection spanning three decades from Nikki Giovanni, renowned poet and one of America’s national treasures. When her poems first emerged during the Black Arts Movement, in the 1960s, Nikki Giovanni immediately took her place among the most celebrated, controversial and influential poets of the era.
- “Vintage Hughes” by Langston Hughes
Arguably the most important writer to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s, Langston Hughes was a great poet and a shrewd and lively storyteller. His work blends elements of blues and jazz, speech and song, into a triumphant and wholly original idiom.
- “S O S: Poems 1961-2013” by Amiri Baraka
Fusing the personal and the political in high-voltage verse, Amiri Baraka was one of the preeminent writers of the past century. Praised for its lyricism and introspection, his early poetry emerged from the Beat generation, while his later writing is marked by more rebellious fervor and intensely subversive ideology.
- “Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart: Poems” by Alice Walker
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Color Purple” works in multiple genres, including poetry. This collection, in both English and Spanish, ranges from life’s simple joys to the importance of bearing witness.
- “Collected Poems: 1974-2004” by Rita Dove
Showcases the diversity of this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s work, including such topics as love, Greek myths, and America’s kaleidoscopic cultural heritage.