It’s February which means…it’s Black History Month! What better way to celebrate than by highlighting a few brilliant poets? This month we’ll be taking a closer look at four of our favorite African-American poets during our 4 Black Poets to Know series as we salute their unique voices and share some of their most loved work.
It’s time to celebrate a true trailblazer, Margaret Walker!
Born on July 7 of 1915, the Birmingham, Alabama native was raised by two scholars who soon went on to teach at New Orleans University. Walker’s parents had a love for literature and poetry that led young Margaret to discover her passion early on. In 1932, Walker met one of her idols, Langston Hughes, when he spoke at the university her parents taught at. Hughes fueled her motivation to create by encouraging her to continue writing. Two years later, her first piece was published at just 17 years old!
Margaret Walker’s first poetry collection, For My People, led her to become the first African-American woman to win the coveted Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1942. Walker’s grandmother often told her stories of their family’s history, including Walker’s great-grandmother’s experiences as an enslaved person in Georgia. Their rich family history inspired her to center her work around African-American life and culture. Between For My People and her first novel, Jubilee, it’s clear Walker had a talent for describing complex subjects accurately enough for readers of all races, genders, and generations to feel.
While her awards and accolades are stunning accomplishments, we admire Walker for her tenacity. Much of her work required a great mix of research and imagination in order to create characters and messages that were historically accurate while conveying the universality and timelessness of her messages effortlessly. Her language is simple and potent. To members of the Black community, much of her work has the relatability and truth we heard sitting around our grandma’s kitchen table on a Saturday night, listening to relatives share laughs and debates. It’s only right that Margaret Walker be remembered as one of the first notable Black female writers to articulate the pain of racial injustices, the hope in freedom and the anticipated liberation of Black women.
“When I was about eight, I decided that the most wonderful thing, next to a human being, was a book.”
– Margaret Walker
To begin your journey with Margaret Walker, we suggest choosing, For My People. This collection is titled after what is arguably Walker’s most loved poem, and for good reason. Walker illustrates a journey across the African-American experience and its consistencies through the ages. The call to action at the end best summarizes the common thread through all of Margaret Walker’s incredible work– her passion and hopes for liberation and racial equality!
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