Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters

Amanda Gorman, Kris Bowers, Robin Coste Lewis, Safiya Sinclair
In conversation with Kevin Young
Thursday, January 28, 2021
Episode Summary

As part of Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles joins the nationwide celebration of 250 years of African American poetry on the occasion of the release of Kevin Young’s anthology. This program will include a special reading of these poems that address questions of identity, race, place, voice, and the richness and diversity of African American poetic imagination.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song is the centerpiece of Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters. Across a turbulent history, from such vital centers as Harlem, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, Black poets created a rich and multifaceted tradition that has been both a reckoning with American realities and an imaginative response to them. Capturing the power and beauty of this diverse tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry reveals as never before its centrality and its challenge to American poetry and culture.

Participant(s) Bio

Kris Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots with inflections of alternative and R&B influences. Bowers’ work as a film and television composer is a testament to his versatility as an artist. Bowers has established himself at the forefront of Hollywood’s emerging generation of composers, and throughout his career, he has consistently championed an art practice guided by multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Robin Coste Lewis is the author of Voyage of the Sable Venus, a National Book Award winner. She is a Provost’s Fellow in Poetry and Visual Studies at the University of Southern California. Lewis is also a Cave Canem fellow and a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. She received her BA from Hampshire College, her MFA in poetry from NYU, and an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard University. A previous finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award, she has published her work in various journals and anthologies, including The Massachusetts Review, Callaloo, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Transition: Women in Literary Arts, VIDA, Phantom Limb, and Lambda Literary Review, among others. She has taught at Wheaton College, Hunter College, Hampshire College, and the NYU Low-Residency MFA in Paris. Lewis was born in Compton, California; her family is from New Orleans.

Amanda Gorman, heralded as “the next great figure in American poetry,” is the youngest inaugural poet and first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate in the United States. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she is a Harvard graduate and has performed at the Obama White House, Library of Congress, Lincoln Center, and more. A published and award-winning poet, Gorman has two forthcoming books with Viking and currently writes for the NYT’s “The Edit” newsletter. She is a board member of 826 National and, most recently, collaborated with Prada’s latest sustainability project and Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign.

Kevin Young, editor, is the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and poetry editor of The New Yorker. A chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the author of many books, including Brown, Bunk, Blue Laws, and Jelly Roll. Among the anthologies he has previously edited are Blues Poems, Jazz Poems, The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, and, for Library of America, John Berryman: Selected Poems. He will be the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture starting in January 2021.

Safiya Sinclair is an award-winning poet and author of Cannibal. Born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Sinclair’s poems are deeply engaged with womanhood, with exile (exile from the homeland, from the prevailing culture, from one’s own body), and reclaiming a place in the world. Her forthcoming memoir, How to Say Babylon, will be published by Simon & Schuster. She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.