Skip to main content

Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters: Introduction

This guide was created to support the Lift Every Voice initiative and grant. Tarrant County College is one of 49 institutions across the United States chosen to provide programming for this initiative.

About Lift Every Voice

Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters is a national public humanities initiative that engages participants in an exploration of African American poetry, the perspectives it offers on American history and the struggle for racial justice, and the universality of its imaginative response to the personal experiences of Black Americans over three centuries. This national initiative of Library of America is presented in partnership with The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with generous support from The National Endowment for the Humanities, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Emerson Collective. The Lift Every Voice Project Reader is available for free download. 

Themes of the Project

  • The Freedom Struggle: Poet and project contributor Kevin Young observes that "for African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proved a form of protest." What forms and voices does Black protest poetry include?
     
  • Black Identities: African American poets have asserted their blackness with joy, with defiance, and occasionally with bitterness at the pressure to downplay Black identity or hide it behind a protective mask. How do the voices
    and personas in African American poetry express the richness, depth, and variety of African American identity?

     
  • Black Experience in History and Memory: The Black past has been both a subject and a muse for African American poets, who have lamented the foundational trauma of slavery and subsequent violence as they've celebrated the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, the election of the first Black president, and above all, the legacy of endurance, resistance, and grace of a culture that is central to American identity. How do African American poets make use of history?
     
  • Black Language and Music: Black poetry has deep kinships with performance: music, Black preaching, and "code switching" between forms of language and speech. Do Black poetry's links to music (spirituals, blues, jazz, hop-hop), to African cultures, and vernacular language have analogies in other American traditions? 
     
  • Family and Community: Ties of family and community are a perennial subject for poetry. How have they been manifested in the African American poetic tradition? In what ways have African American poets depicted Black communities and their rituals? What is universal in these poems, and what is expressive of the uniqueness of the African American experience?

Guiding Questions

  • What forms and voices does Black poetry take on?
  • How has Black poetry contributed to struggles for equality and justice and to the resistance to racism in all its manifestations, including systemic forms?
  • What makes an African American poem African American?
  • How does Black poetry enrich and complicate our understanding of American ideals of freedom and self-determination?
  • How do the voices and personas in African American poetry express the richness, depth, and variety of African American identity?
  • How do African American poets make use of Black history and experience, including its heroes and martyrs?

Lift Every Voice Logo

 

is sponsored by

 

Library of America Logo

 

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Logo

 

National Endowment for the Humanities Logo

 

Mellon Foundation Logo

Emerson Collective Logo