20 Black poets to know this National Black Poetry Day

In honor of National Black Poetry Day, here are 20 contemporary Black poets we think you should be reading all year round. 

Every year, the mainstream literary gates seem to open just that much wider to allow for more diverse stories and voices. To help push those gates open even further, National Black Poetry Day, which falls on Oct. 17 each year, was founded in 1985. The day is as much about bringing awareness to Black poets as it is a celebration of the poets who have been relentless in putting pen to paper, regardless of the mainstream attention. 

Black Poetry Day theGrio.com
Covers: Little, Brown and Company; TinHouse; Two Dollar Radio

In celebration of this year’s Black Poetry Day, we’ve rounded up a list of 20 contemporary Black poets who span generations, backgrounds, and even mediums.  

Hanif Abdurraqib

Cover: Two Dollar Radio

“of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness

would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves,” 

From “I Was Told the Sunlight Was a Cure

The award-winning poet, essayist, and culture critic’s debut essay collection, “They Can’t Kill Us Unless They Kill Us,” released in 2017, was such an iconic first attempt, the book will be receiving a second act through a new hardback edition out this November. In the meantime, apart from a limited edition release chapter book no longer available, Abdurraqib has four more titles including two poetry collections, “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” and “A Fortune For Your Disaster”, which you can enjoy. 

Claudia Rankine

Cover: Graywolf Press

“You are you even before you 

grow into understanding you

 are not anyone, worthless, 

not worth you,”

From “Some years there exists a wanting to escape…

In 2015, a young Black woman was spotted at a Trump rally with her nose in a book. That book was none other than “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine. Albeit an accidental protest, the irreverent act also pushed Rankine’s poetry collection further into the mainstream. More than five years later, Rankine is still penning the words that help us get by. 

Amanda Gorman 

Cover: Penguin Random House

“The crescent moon,

The night’s lucent lesion.

We are felled oaks beneath it,

Branches full of empty.

Look closer.

What we share is more

Than what we’ve shed,”

From ”Lucent

 The youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, Gorman stole the hearts of the country in 2021 with her elegant Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb” and has since been turning heads with her simultaneous rise as a fashion star. According to her website, Gorman has three books forthcoming but for those who can’t wait, she has a children’s book and a poetry collection, “Call Us What We Carry” out now. 

Jericho Brown

Cover: Copper Canyon Press

“And shake it like a man who’s lost and lived. 

Something keeps trying, but I’m not killed yet,”

 From “Psalm 150

The Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, a native of Shreveport, La. who is the grandchild of sharecroppers, once said he didn’t think he knew Black people anymore. He was stepping into a greater awareness of how diverse the Black experience, even in this country alone, can be. For a poet willing to admit how little he understands, his work has helped and continues to help answer questions about identity for many. 

Morgan Parker

Cover: TinHouse

“I’m a patch of grass the stringy roots

you call home or sister if you want

I could scratch your eyes make hip-hop die again,” 

From “Let Me Handle My Business, Damn

Parker is an award-winning poet, novelist, and tattoo enthusiast, who keeps up with the discourse on Twitter like the best of ‘em. Forthcoming is a work of nonfiction, out now she has three poetry collections including “Magical Negro” and “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé,” along with the young adult novel “Who Put This Song On?”  

Saeed Jones

Cover: Coffee House Press

“Alive, how many nights did I spend knelt between

the knees of gods and men begging for rain, rent,

and reasons to remain? A body like the sky seeking

justice. A body like light reaching right down into the field

where you thought you could hide from me,” 

From “A Memory

Many frequently quip that we are currently, or soon approaching, the “end times.” Jones adds his take on the thought-provoking concept with his latest poetry collection, “Alive At The End of The World.” He is also the author of the memoir, “How We Fight For Our Lives,” and the poetry collection “Prelude to Bruise.”

Darlene Anita Scott

Cover Kentucky Press

“Some music might have happened  Someone

was probably peeing Yeast & salt sweetened the air  A napping baby

might have sneezed   A cornrow was unraveling,” 

From “Composting

A poet, visual artist, and professor of composition and creative writing, Scott, focuses her work on “somatic presentations of trauma, how we use our bodies to negotiate real and perceived boundaries, and the corporeality of rage and silence,” according to her website. This area of focus is ever-present in her debut poetry collection, “Marrow,” released earlier this year. 

Joy Priest

Cover: University of Pittsburgh Press

“I want to believe Don West

when he writes: none of mine

ever made their living by driving slaves,” 

From “Denial is a Cliff We Are Driven Over

Priest’s 2020 poetry collection, “Horsepower”, was selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. A year later, Priest was the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. In 2023, an anthology edited by Priest, “Once a City Said: A Louisville Poets’ Anthology” is expected to be published. 

Jasmine Mans

Cover: Penguin Random House

“You look like

you lost the Psalm in your own song–

like you want to talk to God

but you’re afraid

because ya’ll ain’t spoke in so long,” 

From “Footnotes for Kanye

The Resident Poet of the Newark Library, Mans is a multimedia poet and artist who has produced content ranging from written work to video and performance pieces. Following 2012’s “Chalk Outlines of Snow Angels,” Mans went viral in 2015 with her poem “Footnotes for Kanye,” which is featured in 2021’s “Black Girl, Call Home.”

Yona Harvey

Cover: Fourway Books

“Speak nicely to others & they will nicely

speak to you, your mother said. No, not so, you said fairly

close to the end. No time to wait for mother’s ride home or for saviors, coming soon,” 

From “Necessarily

Harvey is the author of the poetry collection “You Don’t Have To Go To Mars for Love”, winner of the Believer Book Award for Poetry, and “Hemming the Water,” winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Harvey has also contributed to the Marvel cannon, co-writing “Marvel’s World of Wakanda” with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay and also collaborating with  Coates on 2017’s “Black Panther & the Crew.”

Terrance Hayes

Cover: Penguin Publishing Group

“Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous

Darkness. Probably all my encounters

Are existential jambalaya. Which is to say,

A nigga can survive,” 

From ”Probably Twilight Makes Blackness Dangerous

Hayes’ recent publications include “American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin,” winner of the Hurston/Wright 2019 Award for Poetry; and “To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight,” winner of the Poetry Foundation’s 2019 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism and a finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. 2023 will see both a new collection of poems and a collection of essays from Hayes.

Danez Smith

Cover: Graywolf Press

“15. (I thought to leave this blank

    but who am I to name us nothing?),” 

From alternate names for black boys

The award-winning author of three collections, including “Homie” and “Don’t Call Us Dead,” both released in 2020, Smith is also a host of “The VS Podcast” for the Poetry Foundation. 

Donika Kelly

Cover: Graywolf Press

“What I wanted: a practice that reassured

that what was cracked could be mended

or, at least, suspended so that it could not spread.

But now I wonder: better to be the egg or scaled


From “A Dead Thing That, in Dying Feeds The Living

Kelly, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, resides in the state with her wife, fellow writer Melissa Febos. Her latest work, “The Renunciations,” published in 2021, won the Anisfield-Wolf book award in poetry.

Tracy K. Smith

Cover: Graywolf Press

“It’s impossible not to want

To walk into the next room and let you

Run your hands down the sides of my legs,

Knowing perfectly well what they know,” 

from “I Don’t Miss It

Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019, has published four poetry collections, including her most recent, “Wade in the Water” (2018), and one memoir, “Ordinary Light“ (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction.

Brandon Leake

Cover: Simon and Schuster

“What’s worse

A man who knows his flaws but isn’t willing to change

them Or a man who is blinded to his own inadequacies

The answer is both, Or Neither,” 

From ”Confused

Perhaps best known as the Season 15 winner of “America’s Got Talent,” earlier this year, the spoken word poet, educator, and artist published his debut poetry collection, “Unraveling”, which deals with themes of self-love. 

Angel Nafis

Cover: Red Beard Press

“It is mostly you, but, not always. After all you gotta eat too,” 

From “King of Kreations” 

Nafis, who has teamed up with fellow poet Morgan Parker on projects like the Other Black Girl Collective, has work published both in print and online at The BreakBeat Poets Anthology, The Rumpus, Poetry Magazine, Buzzfeed Reader, and more, including a 2021 volume of poetry titled “BlackGirl Mansion.” Nafis currently facilitates writing workshops in Brooklyn, where she resides. 

Clint Smith

Cover: Little, Brown and Company

“the drone was built by a man     the drone killed a man     & a woman     & a child     the drone killed a child,” 

From “The Drone

Following his #1 bestselling nonfiction work, “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” Smith returns to poetry in his upcoming book, “Above Ground” slated for release March 28, 2023. In his newest work, the Atlantic staff writer and poet tackles what it’s like to navigate fatherhood and the emotions that accompany the life-changing act of becoming a parent. 

Joshua Bennett

Cover: Penguin Poets

“He is hundreds of miles

away right now, probably,

sitting in a chair, staring

at the wall like a former assailant,”

From “Reparation

Bennett, a professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College, has three poetry collections under his belt. His most recent books are “Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man” and “Owed,” both released in 2020.  

Caroline Randall Williams

Cover: Third Man Books

“I break it if I bought it,

           I own it if I caught it,

           I spend it if I got it.” 

From “[my love is as a fever longing still]” 

According to lore, a lot of William Shakespeare’s famous sonnets were written for a mysterious “Dark Lady.” The multitalented poet, cookbook author, and writer Williams, along with lyricist Paul Vasterling, have lifted those sonnets and created a contemporary ballet that gives a face and a name to Shakespeare’s Dark Lady in “Lucy Negro, Redux.” 

Rio Cortez

Cover: Penguin Random House

“Our Black friends, celebrating

with hors d’oeuvres. Our Black children

growing older.” 

From “Black Lead in a Nancy Meyers Film

The picture book “The ABCs of Black History,” landed writer and poet Cortez on the New York Times Bestseller List in 2019. Her debut poetry collection, “Golden Ax,” published this year, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry. 

Kay Wicker

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands.

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