This April marks the 23rd National Poetry Month, a yearly month-long celebration that aims to spark engagement with poetry around the country. The Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library’s collection features a significant section of African and African American poetry books, so we decided to share 10 books of poems covering a wide range of African and African American Poetry throughout the past two centuries.
Click on the links to find these volumes in the UNC Library Catalog, or come browse the shelves at the Stone Center Library to find even more poetry books. We hope you’ll be able to find a book that interests you, and that it will help you gain an increased appreciation of African traditions within poetry.
- Abani, Chris. Hands Washing Water. Copper Canyon Press, 2006. These poems stem from contemporary author and poet Chris Abani’s experiences growing up in Nigeria, where he was held for a time as a political prisoner, as well as his time spent in the United Kingdom and the United States. The poems cover a variety of topics, including a fictional section in the middle of the book in the form of letters between two lovers during the Civil War.
- Coleman, Jeffrey Lamar. Words of Protest, Words of Freedom: Poetry of the American Civil Rights Movement and Era: An Anthology. Duke University Press, 2012. This volume explores the relationship between poetry and the Civil Rights Movement by collecting works from numerous poets, including some of the most famous African-American poets of that era. The poems are organized into 14 different sections, and each section is dedicated to an event like the assassination of Malcolm X, the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing, and other defining moments in the movement.
- Dawes, Kwame Senu. Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poetry from the Carolinas. Hub City Press, 2011. This book is full of many kinds of poems from a diverse sample of African American poets, all of whom have some connection to the Carolinas. It’s a collection of regional poetry that covers many topics, but is grounded in its connection to North and South Carolina.
- Dawes, Kwame Senu. Red: An Anthology of Contemporary Black British Poetry. Peepal Tree, 2010. Each poem in this anthology was written specifically for the collection, and each poet was asked to write a poem having some connection to the word “red.” The result is a sample of Black British poetry loosely unified by a common thread, and an excellent read for an introduction to some poets of African descent that live in the UK.
- Giovanni, Nikki. The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni. William Morrow and Co., 1996. The poems in this book span Nikki Giovanni’s early career, from the Civil Rights Movement through the 1990s. In chronological order, they help trace the lifetime of one of the foremost African American poets of the past several decades.
- Horton, George Moses. Naked Genius. Chadwyck-Healey Inc., 1996. Penned by the namesake of UNC-Chapel Hill’s own Horton Hall in the years before the end of the Civil War, this collection of poems provides a glimpse into the perspective of a formerly enslaved poet writing before and during the Civil War.
- Hughes, Langston, and David E. Roessel. Poems. Knopf, 1999. No list of African American poetry would be complete without selections from the man who was called “the poet laureate of black America,” and this small book is the perfect introduction to the essential poetry of Langston Hughes. With the cadence of a blues song, Hughes’ poetry captures the many facets of African American life and this small volume includes some of the most iconic poetry born out of the Harlem Renaissance.
- Nielsen, Aldon Lynn, and Lauri Ramey. Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: An Anthology of Innovative Poetry by African Americans. University of Alabama Press, 2006. This anthology contains experimental and innovative poetic forms from notable minds such as Amiri Baraka, Jodi Braxton, Ishmael Reed, and Melvin B. Tolson, while also honoring lesser-known African American poets who likewise experimented with form. If you’re looking for a book that pushes the limits of what poetry can sound and feel like, then this is an excellent volume to pick up.
- Sherman, Joan R. African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology. University of Illinois Press, 1992. Including poets like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and George Moses Horton, this book makes accessible poems that aren’t easily found in print anymore. It contains a full breadth of antislavery poems from the 1800s, organized by author and containing a brief biography of each poet.
- Smith, Tracy K. Duende: Poems. Graywolf Press, 2007. This is the second poetry collection written by Tracy K. Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate since 2017, and it brings together a number of beautiful poems. Smith uses her poetry in this book in particular to lend voices to people across cultures and showcases the diversity of topics and themes to be found in Smith’s work.