Tuesday, February 23, 2016

52 of the most anthologized African American poems

Top: Phillis Wheatley, Claude McKay, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sterling Brown;
Bottom: Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni

If you looked through African American literature anthologies, published between the 1960s and early years of the 21st century, and produced a tally of poems that appeared in 10 or more collections, you would come up with a list that includes the 52 poems identified here. The list includes 19 poets--13 men and 6 women. 16 of the poets were born prior to 1920.

Editors were most likely to reproduce select poems by Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, and next was Gwendolyn Brooks. A large number of poems by Haki Madhubuti, Sonia Sanchez, Larry Neal, Bob Kaufman, Carolyn Rodgers, and others appeared in anthologies. However, editors never seemed to come to a consensus and repeatedly reprint poems by those poets the way they did with, say, Countee Cullen's "Yet Do I Marvel," Robert Hayden's "Frederick Douglass," and Margaret Walker's "For My People." In others, just because certain writers appeared in several collections, did not mean editors regularly chose to anthologize the same select poems by the poets.  

[Related: Two of the most popular non-anthologized poems]

A large number of Baraka's poems appeared in anthologies; however, editors often settled on three of his poems "Black Art," "A Poem for Black Hearts," and "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note."There was something similar at work with poems by Phillis Wheatley; although several of her poems were reprinted beginning during the mid-1960s, editors often selected her poems "On Being Brought From Africa to America," "To His Excellency General Washington," and "On Imagination."

52 of the most anthologized African American poems

1. "Black Art" by Amiri Baraka
2. "A Poem for Black Hearts" by Amiri Baraka
3. "Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note" by Amiri Baraka
4. "kitchenette building" by Gwendolyn Brooks
5. "The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock, Fall 1957" by Gwendolyn Brooks
6. "a song in the front yard" by Gwendolyn Brooks
7. "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
8. "Malcolm X" by Gwendolyn Brooks
9. "Southern Road" by Sterling Brown
10. "Strong Men" by Sterling Brown
11. "Old Lem" by Sterling Brown
12. "Heritage" by Countee Cullen
13. "Yet Do I Marvel" by Countee Cullen
14. "Incident" by Countee Cullen
15. "From the Dark Tower" by Countee Cullen
16. "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
17. "Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
18. "Nikki-Rosa" by Nikki Giovanni
19. "The Slave Auction" by Frances E. W. Harper
20. "Middle Passage" by Robert Hayden
21. "A Ballad of Remembrance" by Robert Hayden
22. "Frederick Douglass" by Robert Hayden
23. "Runagate Runagate" by Robert Hayden
24. "On Liberty and Slavery" by George Moses Horton
25. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" By Langston Hughes
26. "Dream Variation" by Langston Hughes
27. "Harlem" by Langston Hughes
28. "I, Too" by Langston Hughes
29. "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes
30. "Jazzonia" by Langston Hughes
31. "The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes
32. "Song for a Dark Girl" by Langston Hughes
33. "Tired" by Fenton Johnson
34. "I Want to Die While You Love Me" by Georgia Douglas Johnson
35. "O Black and Unknown Bards" by James Weldon Johnson
36. "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson
37. “The Idea of Ancestry" by Etheridge Knight
38. "If We Must Die" by Claude McKay
39. "America" by Claude McKay
40. "The Harlem Dancer" by Claude McKay
41. "The Lynching" by Claude McKay
42. "Harlem Shadows" by Claude McKay
43. "The Outcast" by Claude McKay
44. "The White House" by Claude McKay
45. "Flame Heart" by Claude McKay
46. "Booker T. and W. E. B." by Dudley Randall
47. "Georgia Dusk" by Jean Toomer
48. "Song of the Son" by Jean Toomer
49. "For My People" by Margaret Walker
50. "On Being Brought From Africa to America" by Phillis Wheatley
51. "To His Excellency General Washington" by Phillis Wheatley
52. "On Imagination" by Phillis Wheatley


• I drew my figures from a few different sources, most notably, Jessamine S. Kallnbach's Index to Black American Literary Anthologies (1979).
• The list initially included 50 poems, but I expanded to include poems by Harper and Horton.

A Notebook on Anthologies
Poetry lists
Poetry magazine published two of the most anthologized poems 

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