Detroit’s Naomi Long Madgett, ‘godmother of African-American poetry,' dies at 97

Naomi Long Madgett (The Kresge Foundation)

DETROIT – Detroit is mourning the loss of award-winning poet Naomi Long Madgett.

She has died at age 97.

“We have lost one of Detroit’s brightest lights, someone whose genius spanned generations,” said Rochelle Riley, the city’s director of arts and culture. “She was indeed the godmother of African-American poetry.”

This is from the Poetry Foundation:

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, poet and publisher Naomi Cornelia Long Madgett grew up in East Orange, New Jersey. When she was 13, her family moved to St. Louis. She earned a BA at Virginia State University (then Virginia State College), an M.Ed. at Wayne State University, and a PhD at Greenwich University.

Mentored by poet Langston Hughes, Madgett moved to Detroit in 1946. In the 1960s, she joined a group of African American writers who met regularly at Boone House, including Margaret Danner, Dudley Randall and Oliver LaGrone.

In her poetry, influenced by the work of Emily Dickinson, John Keats, and Langston Hughes, Madgett often engages themes of civil rights and African American spirituality. She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including One and the Many (1956), Exits and Entrances (1978), and Octavia and Other Poems (1988, reissued and expanded in 2002). In 1972, Madgett founded Lotus Press. She edited the anthology Adam of Ifé: Black Women in Praise of Black Men (1992), and her own work was included in the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro, 1746–1949 (1949, edited by Langston Hughes) and Ten: Anthology of Detroit Poets (1968, edited by Oliver LaGrone).

Madgett became Detroit’s poet laureate in 2001. She was awarded the prestigious Kresge Eminent Artist Award in 2012.


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