Good morning, Asheville, Shari here. Tomorrow is Black Poetry Day, which celebrates + appreciates the literary contributions of Black poets + authors.
You’ve probably heard of James Baldwin, Zore Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes. Or maybe you’ve recently discovered Sonia Sanchez after her poem Catch the Fire was featured in a recent episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Side note: who else is loving this show?
And as much as I love those poets, when I think of poetry – my mind immediately goes to Dr. Maya Angelou, who spent more than 30 years of her life right here in North Carolina, as a professor at Wake Forest University.
Throughout her career she acted, sang, danced, and directed – but she is most well known for her collection of seven autobiographies, which include some of my favorite poems + probably some of yours too. In fact, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was the first nonfiction bestseller by a Black woman.
In 1993, she was chosen as the Inaugural Poet where she read her poem On the Pulse of Morning for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, which you may have watched live on television (or maybe you were in DC and saw it live? 😱 If so – please tell us all about it). She later won the Best Spoken Word Album Grammy for this poem.
Her life was incredible and yes, you could just read a quick bio about her online, but the way Dr. Angelou expressed + recounted her life experiences through her poetry is so much more vivid + exciting than any online search.
So, if you’re anything like me – then you know nothing says fall mood like picking up one of her books of poetry from a local bookstore like Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe or Firestorm Books & Coffee + heading to a park for some time in this gorgeous October weather.
And don’t worry, once you get through Maya’s work, there are still plenty of works by Black poets from North Carolina to read. My recommendations are Jaki Shelton Green — the first Black female Poet Laureate of NC — and Glenis Redmond, a founder of the youth slam movement, WordSlam, here in Asheville.
I also highly recommend checking out Word on the Street, a nonprofit that helps support creative journals published by young Black + Latinx writers.
And before I go, I want to leave you with my favorite performance of my favorite Maya Angelou poem – Still I Rise, from the cult classic movie Beauty Shop, performed by Alfre Woodard. It makes me smile + laugh every time.
Happy reading, Asheville. 📚