Nearly four years ago, in the weeks following a very different presidential inauguration, spoken word poet Sarah Kay tweeted, “No, I don’t think poems will save us. And yet, and yet.” With her insight into the power of poetry, perhaps she could have predicted that the country would fall in love with a poet nearly four years later. At the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Amanda Gorman became the youngest inaugural poet in history when she read her poem “The Hill We Climb.” Hearing her inspired words, the world (and Anderson Cooper) cheered for her, and poetry Twitter exploded with appreciation from newfound fans.
While Gorman is exceptional, she’s not alone. She’s an heir to a long history of incredible Black poets, and is one among many present-day Black poets around the country who capture the American story through their art. If you are interested in ways you can support other emerging Black poets and writers, check out these literary organizations and learn how you can get involved.
Cave Canem Foundation (Brooklyn, New York)
Dubbed “the nation’s hub for Black poetry,” Cave Canem was founded in 1996 as a response to the underrepresentation of Black poets in the literary landscape. Since then, they’ve expanded their programs and publications across the United States. Their flagship program, an annual writing retreat, supports 36 emerging Black poets every year. With a mission to “enlarge the American literary canon; democratize archives; and expand for students, aspiring poets and readers the notion of what’s possible and valuable in a poem,” Cave Canem offers free poetic craft talks and writing prompts. Interested parties can volunteer their programmatic, development, or marketing skills. Right now, emerging Black poets can submit their work to the Starshine and Clay Fellowship.
Black Table Arts (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Black Table Arts defines itself as a “community driven arts cooperative … gathering black communities through the arts toward better black futures.” They host a biweekly writing space called Black Lines Matter that highlights the poetic “tactics of liberation” for Black poets. You can sponsor a Black poet in Minnesota by purchasing a membership or you can donate directly to their cause.
InsideOut Literary Arts (Detroit, Michigan)
In the heart of the United States’ Blackest city lies InsideOut Literary Arts, an organization that builds comprehensive skills through creative writing programs in schools. InsideOut Literary Arts is Detroit’s largest and oldest literary nonprofit, and they serve over 100 classrooms and community sites annually. Awarded the National Art and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House in 2009, InsideOut Literary Arts offers at-home lesson plans for elementary-aged through high school students, provides spoken word opportunities to Detroit students, and sponsors the competition for the Detroit Youth Poet Laureate. To support InsideOut Literary Arts, people can purchase school supplies for classrooms or buy a literary journal created by Detroit students involved in the program.
PEN America’s Prison Writing Program (National)
For more than 40 years, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program has been finding audiences for the work of incarcerated writers, many of whom are Black. The program “supports free expression, and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power ... aiming to amplify the voices and writing of imprisoned people to expand beyond the silo of prison, and identity of prisoner.” Subscribe to their online series Temperature Check: COVID-19 Behind Bars and read creative pieces from the Prison Writing Awards Winners Archive.
Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora (Normal, Illinois)
“A premier platform dedicated to African and African Diaspora Literatures,” Obsidian has been publishing Black writers for the past 45 years. Their contributors boast the likes of Octavia Butler, Yusef Komunyakaa, Terrance Hayes, and Claudia Rankine. Published biannually, their previous recent issues are available for purchase. To read their future work, subscribe today. Obsidian is also currently seeking submissions for a special issue themed “Heirloom: Preserving HBCU Futures.”
Chapter 510 (Oakland, California)
Another sponsor of a city Youth Laureate Program, Oakland’s Chapter 510 “work[s] side-by-side with educators to provide a safe space and supportive community for Black, brown, and queer youth ages 8-19 to bravely write.” Chapter 510 teaches creative writing and bookmaking in order to increase the number of books written by queer and trans BIPOC youth in the literary canon. By increasing access to publishing and writing workshops, Chapter 510 is able to publish over 20 youth-penned books per year. Those books are available for purchase, and you can also stream the album Freedom Is, with songs written by Oakland elementary school students. For those available during school hours, Chapter 510 seeks volunteers to (virtually) sit with students as they write.
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