Special Feature, Black Women in the Archives

Selected by Arisa White, this group of historic recordings features, in alphabetical order, original Poetry Center readings by Ai, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Jayne Cortez, Wanda Coleman, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and Pat Parker. Fourteen featured recordings of nine poets range across four decades—from October 1971, as Maya Angelou reads and remarks on her poems collected after the grand success of her autobiography, I Know the Caged Bird Sings, to April 2013, when Wanda Coleman in one of the last public appearances of her life reads from her Poetry Center Book Award book, The World Falls Away. The entirety makes up a singular curriculum for study.
“Watching these videos,” Arisa White writes in her piece “In Praise of Our Black Women Poets” at LitHub, “I entered into a different geological layer within myself. It wasn’t lost on me that the recordings I wanted digitized were from the decades of my birth, childhood, and adolescence. The way these poets occupied space and time was a home-return to rooms that were my own and also part of the grand room of black women poetry. The houses that their poems built offered ways to construct particular experiences and enabled me to have a sense of the future: a future for my poetry…. I wanted others to have access to their presence, to know the poem’s primary sounding, the wisdom they’d shared—just seeing how they shaped the space around them would lend a deeper understanding to the architecture of their poems. I decided to focus the digital collection on the black women who had died.”
Video still: Audre Lorde, February 7, 1986, at The Women's Building, San Francisco.