Saturday, February 2, 2019

Poetry, Anthologies, and Black Book History

Selection of 1960s/1970s anthologies that feature black poetry

Few kinds of books have been as central to the circulation of poetry than anthologies, which contained an assortment of different authors and works. Publishers tend to publish a relatively small number of poetry volumes, and they do not choose produce multiple printings. Thus, the volumes go out of print fairly quickly.

Anthologies contribute to making poets known well beyond their individual volumes. In addition, some collections are taught in college classrooms much more than individual poetry books, creating even more opportunities for poets to gain new readerships. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was unprecedented  demand for African American books, and publishers produced a large number of anthologies featuring black poetry.

Those anthologies were central to the formation of the Black Arts Movement and building or sustaining attention in a wide range of poets, including Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, June Jordan, Larry Neal, and on and on. The anthologies produced during that era also gave renewed attention to older generations of writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Margaret Walker.

Anthologies are not without their limitations. Editors choose a small sample of works from individual writers. In addition, they tend to select the same works over and over again, creating a somewhat limited view of writer's overall output. Limits on space mean that editors must exclude many talented writers from the collections.

Nonetheless, anthologies remain as important mediums for the transmission of black poetry, for better and worst. These books definitely deserve special notice as we think acknowledge Black Book History during the month of February.

Black Book History, February 2019
A notebook on anthologies

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