These BIPOC-Authored Poetry Books Are Sure To Move, Inspire, & Inform You
In recent months, racial injustices in the U.S. have given rise to a new vanguard — one that's charged with the desire to learn, or for many, re-learn, about American history from a broader range of perspectives than those found in history textbooks. A simple place to start is by investing in literature penned by authors that are Black, Indigenous, or people of color. By now, you may have come across some of the reading lists that are percolating through Instagram — but one area that could use more exploration is poetry collections and anthologies of creative writings. Fortunately, there are tons of BIPOC-Authored poetry books that are sure to move, inspire, and inform you, by some of the most celebrated wordsmiths in history.
The texts included run the gamut — there's Ross Gay, a Black poet whose lilting verses about nature are sure to soothe and spellbind any reader. Then, Mojave American poet Natalie Diaz's terse lines paint a harrowing picture of the hardships of reservation life. As you read along, TZR will point you to one poem per collection, so you can get a sense of the author's distinct style before you take your pick. All things considered, taking some time to read a bit of poetry each day is a great way to round out your mindfulness routine — and the authors below are a great place to start.
Ahead, shop all the poetry books, each retailed from a Black-owned bookstore:
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When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
Diaz's debut poetry collection calls upon her experience growing up on Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in California, flanked by dark humor and rich, tangible diction. "Why I Hate Raisins" is one of many striking poems, addressing poverty and family strife; several others confront a brother's battles with addiction.
Wade In The Water, Tracy K. Smith
Though Smith won a Pulitzer Prize for her preceding collection, Life on Mars, this collection by the former Poet Laureate of the U.S. deserves a closer look, given its cross-examination of systemic racism domestically. Offering a retrospective on everything from slavery to police brutality (read "Declaration" for a closer look), Smith questions what it takes to be American in a nation whose foundation is fundamentally flawed.
A Swarm of Bees in High Court, Tonya Foster
Fashion-philes will tell you straightaway that this text's cover is meant to be a tableau of Josephine Baker, one of the most celebrated Black style icons from history, in her banana skirt. Capturing Harlem in the new millennium, 100 years after Baker would have revitalized the neighborhood, Foster's collection is inherently feminist, exploring the narrator's haunted psyche by way of several experimental haikus, including "In/somnia".
Catalog Of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay
Gay's indulgent adoration of nature is enough to make this an appealing read. There's sprawling illustrations of up-close days in the garden, pruning and feasting on figs, many times told with a cheerful optimism that's sure to add levity to your day. As shown in poems like "the opening," there are harder-hitting moments of love and loss tucked into the collection, as well.
Where To Begin, Cleo Wade
This book mixes poetry and prose to help its reader out of hopelessness, inspiring strength as luminaries aim to enact positive change in our fraught world. Her poems (see above to read "tired") and mantras can be turned to time and time again when feelings of anxiety wash over, and can be enjoyed at any age or reading level.
Wounded In The House Of A Friend, Sonia Sanchez
Leading writer from the Black Arts Movement, Sonia Sanchez went a different route for her 1995 book. Rather than a conglomerated anthology, this poetry book tells the cohesive story — through poems like "This Is Not a Small Voice," Sanchez takes on female hardships through a lens of healing, courage and hope.
The Book of American Negro Poetry, James Weldon Johnson (1922)
To access poetry from Black writers beyond a certain point in time, the only way was to read from anthologies compiled at a later date. This one from James Weldon Johnson, a Civil Rights activist and leader in the NAACP, includes works by fabled Black poets like Anne Spencer (read "Lines to a Nasturtium") and W. E. B. DuBois.