Monday, June 25, 2012

Where you from?: Migration patterns of poets (A Midwest Edition)

Dunbar was from Ohio
I was recently considering the significance of where poets stay, but there's also the matter of "where you from," an especially notable factor when we consider the importance of migration patterns among African Americans -- from Africa to America, from rural areas in the South to the region's cities, and eventually from the South to the North.  For now, I was thinking about the Midwest as a notable point of departure and key destination for so many poets.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was from Ohio, and so are poets Rita Dove, Thylias Moss, and William J. Harris. Although his prominence as a Harlem Renaissance figure lead many folks to think he's from New York, Langston Hughes is actually from the Joplin, Missouri. Hughes spent years growing up in Kansas--the same state where Gwendolyn Brooks was born and where Kevin Young also spent years growing up, though he was born in Nebraska.

Brooks's family moved to Illinois not long after her birth, making her part of a large number of poets from somewhere else who moved to or spent time in Chicago. Novelist Richard Wright, who did early work as a poet, was born in Mississippi and lived in Arkansas and Tennessee before making his way to Chicago. Margaret Walker was born in Alabama, but also spent years in Chicago.

Margaret Burroughs spent years in Chicago
Sterling Plumpp has lived in Chicago for years, but he's from Mississippi. Haki Madhubuti was born in Arkansas and moved to Chicago. Tyehimba Jess is from Detroit and now lives in New York, but he spent some years in Chicago as well, so did Tara Betts and Quraysh Ali Lansana. Johari Amini is from Philadelphia, and Kelly Norman Ellis from Mississippi, but they have lived in Chicago for many years now. Margaret Burroughs was born in Louisiana but spent decades in Chicago, where she co-founded the DuSable Museum of African American History. Poets Carolyn Rodgers and Patricia Smith were born in the city.  

Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, but spent years during the early part of her career as a professor in Chicago. Allison Joseph was born in London and grew up in New York, but has spent decades now living in Carbondale, Illinois.    

jessica Care moore is from the D
We certainly can't live Detroit out of this mix; that's where Robert Hayden, Dudley Randall (founder of Broadside Press), and jessica Care moore are from. Naomi Long Madgett was born in Virginia, but has spent many decades in Detroit. Mari Evans was born in Ohio, but she's spent decades in Indianapolis, a place often associated with poet Etheridge Knight, who was born in Mississippi. Adrian Matejka, who was born in Nuremberg, Germany, spent some years growing up in Indiana as well. As an undergraduate studied at Indiana University, Matejka studied with Yusef Komunyakaa. 

Finally, there's St. Louis, where Treasure Redmond now lives though she was born in Mississippi. Maya Angelou, Quincy Troupe, and Eugene B. Redmond were born in St. Louis. When he was young, Redmond moved with his family across the Mississippi River to East St. Louis, Illinois, where decades later Redmond befriended poet Henry Dumas, who happened to be from a town in Arkansas called Sweet Home. You may have heard of Sweet Home, as Toni Morrison uses it as the name of a plantation in her novel Beloved.

Why Poets might not write much about where they currently live

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