Poets of Color: A Required Reading List

little infinite modern poetry poets of color

Let’s create a new list of required reading for those poetry classes.

Think back to your literature classes, whose poetry did you read? Shakespeare? Frost? A bunch of old white dudes with a bit of Emily Dickinson sprinkled in for “diversity”? Yeah, we’re over all of that.

Poets of color are shaking up the world of poetry. Poetry is a fundamental part of storytelling. By sharing their stories and experiences, these poets shine a light on parts of the world that aren’t recognized in the mainstream. More importantly, it gives a voice to those who don’t think they have one.

Time to learn from the modern poets of color who have a lot to say.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Cast Away

“I couldn’t save the world, but I could pick up trash.” That quote opens this moving and humorous collection of poems. Naomi Shihab Nye put together eighty new poems that focus on the things we throw away. Her poems cover everyday things like straws, junk mail, and lost mittens, to things we shouldn’t toss, but find ourselves throwing away all the same like refugee children, the environment, and time. This book is a must-read collection for adults and young adults alike. There is a reason Shihab Nye is the Young People’s Poet Laureate.

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One of my favorite poems called Hidden!

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Chen Chen

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities

In his debut collection, Chen Chen looks at the ways that love and family are inherited. Even when family relationships are strained and there are necessary goodbyes in order to grow, there is love. Of course, there is also grief, loss, and joy that comes with finding your own path in life. All of his poems are from an Asian American immigrant and queer perspective.

Porsha Olayiwola

I Shimmer Sometimes, Too

Porsha Olayiwola is a performance poet who’s poetry is hard to match on a mic. Luckily her poems strike just as much awe in print as well. In this collection, Olayiwola doesn’t shimmer, she shines as she discusses everything about black womanhood. With each poem, she looks to build a world that will not only keep people safe but will keep people joyful. If you are a fan of Audre Lorde or Danez Smith, then watch out for Olayiwola as she becomes the next name in black queer poetry.

Crystal Valentine

Franny Choi

Soft Science

In a world of artificial intelligence and automation, how do we express feeling and tenderness? How do we survive in a violent world? These are the questions Franny Choi asks in this collection. These AI-inspired poems discuss everything from technology and violence to gender and loneliness. Choi uses technology as a way to explore queer, Asian American femininity.

Kaveh Ackbar

Calling a Wolf a Wolf

Addiction is powerful and recovery can be strenuous. Fighting against cravings is a constant battle and sobriety can be an uphill battle. Kaveh Ackbar knows all of this all too well and channels his struggle into this poetry collection. His poems question natural instinct, especially when faced with something that is harmful, like alcohol. Ackbar’s poems are a powerful look into the mind of an addict.

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Morgan Parker

Magical Negro

This collection invites readers to see how America views blackness. Morgan Parker’s poems are edgy, beautiful, and funny, but also look at serious issues that Black Americans face every day. She points out the patterns and themes of loneliness, grief, and ancestral trauma seen every day in America. This collection is part personal story, part political statement.

These are only a few of the many poets of color out there. So, diversify your bookshelf and grab a few of these amazing collections. Who are some of your favorite poets of color? Let us know who you like to read.

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Featured photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

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