During this month of February, the nation once again celebrates Black History Month and remembers the achievements of black men and women who made their marks in history. Let us take a look at five famous black poets who are HBCU alumni, and contributed to the awareness of Black culture in America through their poems.
Nikki Giovanni (Fisk University)
Nikki Giovanni’s poetry reveals a strong appreciation for her African-American heritage. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1943, Giovanni belongs to a family of storytellers, who influenced her love for literature at an early age. She studied at the Fisk University at a time when a black renaissance was just beginning. Her early writings reflected her desire for more people to understand the plight of the black people. Her poems gained prominence during the late 1960s to early 1970s.
Giovanni taught at the Rutgers University in 1969. She also began to compose poems for children and had some of her works published for young readers. She became a popular voice for black people’s rights in the 1970s and 1980s and received awards from the National Council of Negro Women and the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers. Some of her recent works include The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni (2003), Acolytes (2007) and Bicycles: Love Poems (2009).
Langston Hughes (Lincoln University of Pennsylvania)
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was one of the black writers who emerged during the “Harlem Renaissance” in the 1920s. His poetry was about the ordinary black people and he portrayed their condition with depth and sensitivity. He was the first black American to earn his living from his writings and lectures aloe. The average black people recognize his wit and sincerity as he paints the blacks as a people of strength and beauty.
His life in different American cities when he was young and his travels to several countries as he grew older brought substance to his writings. He believed that man is inherently good and reflected in his writings the hope that one day men will live with each other in harmony. He was a famous novelist, writer of children’s poems, lyricist, translator and a lecturer. In 1947, he became a visiting professor at Atlanta University for creative writing. His poems have been translated into different languages – French, German, Russia, Czech and Spanish.
Claude Mckay (Tuskegee Institute)
Claude McKay was originally from Jamaica, where at an early age, he learned to appreciate English poetry. He started writing poetry in his teens, and was later able to publish his first verse collections, Songs of Jamaica in 1912. Songs of Jamaica presented the positive aspects of his peasant life, as contrasted with his next collection, Constab Ballads, which painted a bleak perspective on the plight of Jamaican blacks. McKay was able to go to the United States through the stipend he received from the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences from his novel, Songs of Jamaica. He studied at the Tuskegee Institute and later transferred to Kansas State College. As in Jamaica, he encountered racism in New York, which inspired him to write poetry that expressed his disgust for racism and prejudice directed to the blacks.
Through his writings, he drew attention to causes that are meant to uplift the condition of the blacks. His first novel, Home to Harlem was the most popular among his works and depicted the social reality prevalent among the black communities at that time. Home to Harlem became the first successful novel ever written by a black writer.
Melvin B. Tolson (Fisk University, Lincoln University of Pennsylvania)
Melvin Tolson (1898–1966) was known as one of the popular black poets who wrote in an Anglo-American tradition, blended with an African-American style. This made his poetry and sonnets unique as they reflected the lives of black Americans. His first collection of poetry, “Rendezvous With America” was awarded first place in the 1939 American Negro Exposition National Poetry Contest. This anthology of his poems depicted the struggles of black Americans throughout history and their aspirations and hopes to be recognized for their achievements.
His work, Harlem Gallery: Book One, The Curator, which started out as a sonnet, gained recognition as a poetic masterpiece, and reviewers likened it to the works of T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman. Melvin Tolson was also a professor of creative literature at Langston University, Langston, K and a professor of Humanities at Tuskegee Institute.
W.E.B. Du Bois (Fisk University)
W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was a prolific writer, professor, political activist and one of the most notable participants in the civil rights movement in America. He was of African and French descent, and only understood the social prejudice against black Americans while attending Fisk University in Tennessee. He wrote “The Souls of Black Folk” which depicted the social struggles of black Americans.
He was one of the pioneers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) where he served as the director of publicity and research for many years. He also wrote several books which often dramatizes the struggles experienced by the black people. Because of his beliefs and political inclinations, he became a controversial figure during his time, yet is remembered n the black community as a “founding father of multiculturalism.”
A list to aspire to join….
If you were me, what would you do?
I’m entirely the artist, tired and wearied, yet observant, hopeful, eager to alter the world for a lighter version. My novels are filled with poetry, heart, art, and tales of darkness, depth, homelessness, depression, intimate partner violence, all based upon my interpretations of real events.
I have always had the gift of being a storyteller, and, I have funneled that gift into five manuscripts which I have a desire to publish (as the sixth is a compilation of my poetry), so that the world may have another message, another tale that might inspire, change, and advance this world. I also want to work to end homelessness on a world scale. I just have to find the right way in which to do it.
I have six books that I’m seeking representation and publishing for! I hope to soon follow in the steps of Khaled Hosseini, Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and Richard Wright for the following reason.
I’d say that my books have the realism of Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns), the shock and boldness and accuracy of Richard Wright (Black Boy, Native Son), the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou and Robert Frost, the bildungsroman of J.D. Salinger, and the perilous romance of Ian McEwan (Atonement). But, too, the passion of myself, the words of a 21st century youth, on the brink of adulthood with the ambition and hopefulness everyone first holds. I hope that you might be able to help me.
In the words of my architecture professor, my desire to be published is like “Horton Hears A Who… you know, you have to believe in it… at some point (praise the Lord ^.^) you’re going to have to hear a Who… at some point, you’re going to have to believe in what you’re doing” and, I believe in this. Thank you for seeking to connect!
. I am 22, right now, and, I have a passion: writing. I have six books in my belt but no one who will actually do anything about helping me in my struggle to have those words published outside of giving me advice to find a literary agent; a seeming impossibility when no one wants to take a risk on the 22 year old newcomer that has not a name. Everyone says be young, follow your passion, yet, when I say that I want to follow my passion, no one wants to help me unlock the door, though they see that my arms are full. What am I to do? Self-confidence and patience won’t help me with loan-repayment. Must I settle in a ten-year job I hate just to pay the bills when I could just do what I love, which is continue writing, if only I could share it with someone other than my jump drive device?
For we who are 22 could use a bit more help and less advice in our lives. I have four years of University and a degree worth of advice from the world’s best scholars and writers, etc. What I need, being currently 22 with six books that no one wants to help publish, is not more words, not more encouragement or people telling me to stick with it, that I can publish the books if I just hold out, or to work a job outside of my interest, just to at least start paying back loans that I cannot afford. What we, the current generation of 22-year-olds, need is not our parents and the prior generations telling us to live and be young, or simply telling us what to do or to believe and hold out. What we need is a bit more than faith in our abilities or that everything will turn out right. Surely, we have that. What we need is someone who has walked the path we are currently treading upon to give us a hand up, not a hand out. Help us to achieve our goals, don’t simply tell us that we c