WCMU Public Media
A Service of Central Michigan University

The joys and tears of the Black experience
are depicted in the storytelling of three award-winning poets
ranging in age from 75 to 93.

DVDs of "Contemporary Black Poetry Experience"
are available for $19.95 plus S&H.
Call 1-800-PBS-WCMU (1-800-727-9268) to order.

Creative writing, and poetry in particular, has long been a social barometer. It has and continues to give us insight into our world; it broadens our understanding of society – often depicting the joys and challenges of people different than ourselves.  The purpose of the “Contemporary Black Poetry Project” was to bring awareness and understanding of the African American experience through the storytelling of Naomi Long Madgett, Herbert Woodward Martin and Toi Derricotte.

In fall 2016, the project brought events to central and northern Michigan where there is often little to no exposure to Black poetry and its significance. Although the three award-winning poets ranging in age from 75 to 93 had known each other for decades, this project presented an opportunity for them to perform together on the same stage for the first time. Venues included CMU Park Library Auditorium in Mt. Pleasant, Festival of the Book in Harbor Springs, and City Opera House in Traverse City. Students from the Traverse Bay Intermediate School District enjoyed time with the poets at the TBAISD Career/Tech Center.

This 60-minute documentary is the culmination of WCMU’s "Contemporary Black Poetry Project." It includes highlights from the live performance at City Opera House in Traverse City and studio interviews as the poets discuss their friendship and careers.
Poet Biographies  

Naomi Long Madgett

Naomi Long Madgett is author of ten books of poetry, including Octavia and Other Poems (1988), which was made required reading in all Detroit public high schools; in 1997 Vander Films produced a documentary film, A Poet’s Voice, based on this award-winning book. Madgett is also author of A Student’s Guide to Creative Writing, a college level textbook. Her autobiography, Pilgrim Journey, won the Creative Scholarship Award from the College Language Association in 2006. She also edited two anthologies including the groundbreaking Adam of Ifé: Black Women in Praise of Black Men. Individual poems have appeared in numerous journals and 91 anthologies both here and abroad.

Recognition of her achievements includes an American Book Award in 1993, appointment as Detroit Poet Laureate in 2001, the 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Award, four honorary doctoral degrees, induction into three halls of fame, and several lifetime achievement awards. In 2005 her life-size bronze bust, sculpted by Artis Lane, was unveiled at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and is a part of its permanent collection.

Madgett founded Lotus Press, Inc. in 1972 and served as its publisher/editor for 43 years. In 1993, its board of directors established the national annual Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award to recognize and publish an outstanding book-length manuscript by an African American poet.

Herbert Woodward Martin

Herbert Woodward Martin has been told that he studied with the last of the formalists of the Twentieth Century. He has come to believe that assertion. He knows that he fully endorses the idea that revision is vital to the process of writing any poem.

Martin began his teaching career at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids and continued for three decades at The University of Dayton. He honed his poetic skills by first studying at Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English, M. Litt. 1972, and finally at Carnegie Mellon University where he earned his Doctor of Arts in1979. He has published ten volumes of poetry and edited three volumes of the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Nineteenth Century celebrated African American poet born in Dayton.

He has made guest appearances as narrator with American symphonic orchestras, most recently a recording made with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra of William Grant Still’s Symphonic #1: “The Afro-American.” It is the first such recording of this work produced in the United States.

Martin is the librettist for two American Operas, a Cantata, and a Magnificat. His poems have been set to music by Joseph Fennimore and Philip Carl Magnuson and Adolphus Hailstork.

He has held Visiting Professorships at Central State University (Ohio), Urbana University (Ohio), and Central Michigan University. He was a 1990-1991 Visiting Fulbright Scholar to Pecs, Hungary.

For his scholarship work on Dunbar he has been awarded four Honorary Doctor of Arts and Humanities.

Toi Derricotte

Toi Derricotte is an award-winning poet whose writings, though frequently autobiographical, treat universal subjects such as racism and identity in ways that are moving, painful, and illuminating. Her style is credited with an evocative simplicity reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, though it also contains the kind of expansive colloquial expression attributed to Walt Whitman.

Born in Hamtramck, Derricotte spent time as a child at her grandparents’ funeral home in Detroit -- an experience that shaped much of her early work. Her family life was marked by death, abuse, pain and racism. Coupled with her Roman Catholic schooling and light skin, Derricotte often felt alienated and guilty. She has confided that: “As a black woman, I have been consistently confused about my 'sins,' unsure of which faults were in me and which faults were the results of others' projections.”

Derricotte received her B.A. from Wayne State University and an M.A. in English Literature from New York University. She has received the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Guggenheim, and the Maryland State Arts Council. In 1996, with poet Cornelius Eady, she founded Cave Canem, a writing workshop for African American poets. In 2012, she was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

Many thanks to our generous Contemporary Black Poetry Project Funders:

Ann K. Irish Charitable Fund* CMU Office for Institutional Diversity & Inclusion
Anonymous Supporter of the Arts, Mt. Pleasant CMU Faculty Association
Bistro Fou Fou CMU Program Board
Bruehl Fund* CMU Student Activities And Involvement
C. Joanne Grabinski and Roger N. Grabinski, Mt. Pleasant Courtyard at Central Michigan University
Cambria Suites Erickson Family Fund*
City Opera House Financial Investment Management Group (FIM Group)
Clarke Family Fund* Hameister Family Charitable Fund*
CMU Clarke Historical Library Meijer
CMU College of Education & Human Services Patricia Herron
CMU College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences Roast & Toast Coffee & Cafe
*These funds are at the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.
… and to our terrific Community Partners
Festival of the Book, Harbor Springs Michigan Writers