10 Poems by African-American Poets

Black Poets
Photos via Flickr/Gage Skidmore, Flickr/Burns Library, Boston College, Kevin Young, Tyehimba Jess, Wikimedia Commons. Illustration by ITHAKA Design/Shubham Pokharel.

As Langston Hughes pointed out in his famous essay “200 Years of American Negro Poetry,” “Poets and versifiers of African descent have been publishing poetry on American shores since the year 1746 when a slave woman named Lucy Terry penned a rhymed description of an Indian attack on the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts.”

He went on to write, “art is to be an intensification or enlargement of life, or to give adequate comment on what living is like in the poet’s own time.” Here are ten poets, from Gwendolyn Brooks and Hughes himself, to contemporary writers like Kevin Young and Tyehimba Jess, who intensify life with every line:

“Ode,” Elizabeth Alexander 

“Women Writers’ Workshop,” Tara Betts

“Old Mary,” Gwendolyn Brooks 

“Peach Picking,” Kwame Dawes

“The First Book,” Rita Dove

“After Birth,” Camille T. Dungy

“Do any black children grow up casual?,” Harmony Holiday 

“Blues on a Box,” Langston Hughes

“Blind Boone’s Pianola Blues,” Tyehimba Jess

“I Hope It Rains at My Funeral,” Kevin Young


More poetry available for free PDF download:

Winter Poems
Flower Poems
Love Poems
Nature Poems
Sylvia Plath Poems 

JSTOR Citations

200 Years of American Negro Poetry

By: Langston Hughes

Transition, No. 75/76, The Anniversary Issue: Selections from Transition, 1961-1976 (1997), pp. 90-96

Indiana University Press on behalf of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University


By: Elizabeth Alexander

Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 23, No. 3, Poetry Issue (Autumn, 1989), p. 495

African American Review (St. Louis University)

Women Writers' Workshop

By: Tara Betts

Women's Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 3/4, Women, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System (Fall - Winter, 2004), pp. 285-287

The Feminist Press at the City University of New York

Old Mary

By: Gwendolyn Brooks

Poetry, Vol. 94, No. 6 (Sep., 1959), p. 373

Poetry Foundation

Peach Picking

By: Kwame Dawes

The Georgia Review, Vol. 59, No. 1 (SPRING 2005), p. 49

Georgia Review

The First Book

By: Rita Dove

Callaloo, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Summer, 2008), p. 753

The Johns Hopkins University Press

After Birth

By: Camille T. Dungy

Callaloo, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Summer, 2011), p. 788

The Johns Hopkins University Press

Do any black children grow up casual?

By: Harmony Holiday

Poetry, Vol. 203, No. 2 (NOVEMBER 2013), p. 157

Poetry Foundation

Blues on a Box

By: Langston Hughes

Poetry, Vol. 69, No. 5 (Feb., 1947), pp. 248-249

Poetry Foundation

Blind Boone's Pianola Blues

By: Tyehimba Jess

BOMB, No. 133 (Fall 2015), p. 77

New Art Publications

I Hope It Rains at My Funeral

By: Kevin Young

Harvard Review, No. 35 (2008), pp. 158-159

Harvard Review

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