Monday, January 6, 2014

The rise of black poets during the 1970s and then again in the 1990s

If you enter several different major black poets' names into Google's Ngram Viewer, you'll notice a steep increase during the 1970s, followed by a drop during the 1980s, and another rise during the 1990s before slightly dropping off during the 21st century. Check out the following graph:

Source: Ngram Viewer

For one, Langston Hughes is apparently cited much more than even other canonical black poets such as Countee Cullen, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Margaret Walker. Still, Hughes and those poets tend to follow a common pattern: peaks during the 1970s and then later again in the 1990s. I've run several other tests and come to realize that the pattern is somewhat widespread.

The visibility of the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power and the development of Black Studies programs and increased enrollment of black people in college and graduate programs during the late 1960s and on into the 1970s were all central to the popularity of "black subjects."

source: Ngram Viewer
You notice above that Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez began to rise during the 1970s. Over subsequent years, their mentions in books peaked during the 1990s. It's worth noting that African American literary and cultural studies, in general, reached new levels of popularity during the 1990s.

Ngram Viewer is imprecise in some ways because it only tells word and phrase usage and not necessarily how the terms were used. Still, it is useful for painting a broad picture. Moving forward, I'll run more tests using the tool as I move to gathering more information about black poetry over long stretches of time. 

Shifts of labels concerning "Negro poetry" and "Black" poetry 
LeRoi Jones vs. Amiri Baraka vs. Black poetry

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