Turning The Page: 10 Black Poets You Need To See And Hear


There are not enough words to describe the talent, poise and grace Amanda Gorman has displayed over the last few weeks. From her performance on Inauguration Day to signing a deal with IMG Models, she has become a household name across the country within weeks. Her years of hard work have translated into performances on the world's biggest stages. Most recently, she delivered a powerful poem during Super Bowl LV.

As Gorman's profile has grown, more Americans are continuing to search for more poetry that can reflect the times that we are living in. Gorman is one of many poets carrying the art form forward during Black History Month. Dave Harris, Ebony Stewart, Rasheed Copeland, Clint Smith, Mahogany L. Browne, Julian Randall, Imani Cezanne and several other Black poets are pouring their emotions in to beautiful pieces of art work. Here are ten of the many Black poets that are pushing poetry forward.

***Note: The poems below may contain language that is graphic or profane***

Rudy Francisco

"Rudy Francisco is one of the most recognizable names in spoken word poetry. He was born, raised and still resides in San Diego, California. At the age of 21, Rudy completed his B.A. in Psychology and decided to continue his education by pursuing an M.A. in organizational studies. As an artist, Rudy Francisco is an amalgamation of social critique, introspection, honesty and humor. He uses personal narratives to discuss the politics of race, class, gender and religion while simultaneously pinpointing and reinforcing the interconnected nature of human existence.

Rudy Francisco seeks to create work that promotes healthy dialogue, discourse and social change. Furthermore, Rudy has made conscious efforts to cultivate young poets and expose the youth to the genre of Spoken Word Poetry via coaching, workshops and performances at preparatory schools and community centers. Rudy has also received admiration from institutions of higher education. He has conducted guest lectures and performances at countless colleges and universities across the nation.

Rudy Francisco has shared stages with prominent artists such as Gladys Knight, Jordin Sparks, Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott. He is also the co-host of the largest poetry venue in San Diego, competes in domestic and international poetry slam competitions and had the honor of being nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Ultimately, Rudy's goal is to continue to assist others in harnessing their creativity while cultivating his own. Rudy Francisco is the 2009 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion, 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and appeared on TV One’s Verses and Flow," Rudy Francisco writes.

Crystal Valentine

"Born and raised in the Bronx, Crystal Valentine is a nationally and internationally poet. Crystal has traveled across seas performing on platforms in Paris, Brazil, Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere. She was named Glamour Magazine's 2016 College Woman of the Year, Teen Vogue's Rising Young Black Thought Leader, and was the recipient of the National Conference of College Women Student Leaders Woman’s Distinction Award. A Callaloo Fellow and former New York City Youth Poet Laureate, Crystal’s work has been featured on programming for MSNBC, Blavity, Button Poetry, BET, CNN, The New York Daily News and more. She earned her B.A. in Psychology at New York University, where she is returning as a MFA candidate in Poetry. She is a coordinator for the Bronx Council on the Arts and is the current Wednesday Night host at the Nuyorican Poets Café.

Crystal is a generator and fierce protector of black joy, and strongly believes that intersectionality is a key factor in liberation. As a queer, black, woman, a lot of her work revolves around bridging the ever present gap between her identities. Her goal is to provide a sanctuary within her poems that can be accessible to all black people: queer, trans, women, gender non conforming, disabled, poor, loud, angry, ghetto, for it is when all of these voices are present and accounted for that we can really begin the gruesome work of understanding and breaking down systematic oppression. Above all, Crystal loves her kin, she currently divides her time between curating writing workshops and performing at various venues," Crystal Valentine writes.

Pages Matam

"Pages Matam is an international artist & educator from Cameroon, Central Africa, currently residing in Washington D.C. He is the Director of Poetry Events for Busboys and Poets, a Callaloo Fellow, and Write Bloody published author of The Heart of a Comet (2014), winner of Best New Book 2014 from Beltway Poetry Quaterly and Teaching for Change bestseller. He is the cultural ambassador for the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA, D.C. Chapter) and a National poetry slam Champion, with passions in the field of education, violence and abuse trauma work, immigration reform and youth advocacy. He has been a featured artist, performer, and contributor in various publications and media appearances including the NAACP Youth Conference, Afropunk, The Guardian, Google Voices, Upworthy, Huffington, Okay Africa, Macy’s, The Pentagon, the Kennedy Center, the Apollo Theater, BET Lyric Cafe, TV One’s Verses & Flow, The Smithsonian, and many more. He has performed across the world in Canada, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Sweden, UAE. Pages is an art creator, teacher, and organizer by day, proud gummy bear elitist, bowtie enthusiast, professional hugger, anime fanatic and fried plantain connoisseur by night," Pages Matam writes.

Jasmine Mans

"Jasmine Mans is a Black American poet and artist from Newark, New Jersey. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison, with a B.A. in African American Studies. Her debut collection of poetry, Chalk Outlines of Snow Angels, was published in 2012. Mans is the resident poet at the Newark Public Library. She was a member of The Strivers Row Collective," Jasmine Mans writes.

Carvens Lissaint

"Carvens Lissaint is a Haitian American International award-winning poet, actor, and singer. He currently stars in the Tony Award winning musical Hamilton as George Washington at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, CA. Carvens was selected as an honoree by Blavity and Shadow And Act at the first annual Shadow and Act Rising Star Awards, highlighting the top black actors/actress, creatives & executives in the industry. He has graced stages across the United States, United Kingdom and The Caribbean. Featured on TED Youth, Sundance Film Festival, The United States Green Build Council in Arizona, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, on Broadway at The New Amsterdam Theater & the Off-Broadway Hip-Hop Theater Festival, debuting his one man show, Walk, at the Ohio Theater. He was on the second, third, & fifth seasons of the hit television series Verses and Flow on TV One and has opened for the likes of John Leguzizamo, Common, Luke James and Jill Scott. A graduate of The American Academy for Dramatic Arts and St. John’s University with degrees in Acting/Dramatic Arts for Film & Television and holds an MFA from NYU Tisch School of The Arts Graduate Acting Program. He gives all glory and honor to Jesus," Carvens Lissaint writes.

Kai Davis

"Kai Davis (she/her) is a Black Queer writer, performer, and teaching artist from Philadelphia. Kai received her BA in both Africana Studies and English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Temple University. Her work explores Blackness, Queerness, womanhood, and the many ways these identities converge. Kai’s work examines how power operates globally, nationally, interpersonally, and internally. She speaks about structural racism, misogyny, Black womanhood, ancestral trauma, mental health, intersectionality, Queer love, Black love, and more.

Kai has performed for TEDX Philly, CNN, BET, PBS, and NPR, among others. She has given readings and speeches in many notable venues, including the San Francisco Opera House, Gramercy Theater, The Kimmel Center, and The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, along with over 50 colleges across the country. Kai has delivered keynotes and facilitated workshops at several conferences, including IvyQ, The Diversity Inclusion & Fairness Conference at Georgia Southern University, and the Black Students Alliance Conference at Smith College. She is a two-time international grand slam champion, winning Brave New Voices in 2011 and The College Union Poetry Slam Invitational in 2016. In 2017 Kai received the Leeway Transformation Award for her years of art for social change work in Philadelphia and is the 2020 NextFab x Leeway Art and Technology Artist-in-Residence

Right now she spends most of her time working as Poetry Editor for Apiary Magazine, as Co-Host and Artistic Director for The Philly Pigeon, and as a member of the Philadelphia Poet Laureate Committee. Kai also visits high schools and local non-profit organizations, teaching poetry to marginalized and under-served young folk.

Kai has self-published four chapbooks: Music & Marrow, The Falling Action, Black Chronicle, and Ain’t I. Her work has been published in The Offing and The Shade Journal and is forthcoming in Mouths of Rain: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Thought," Kai Davis writes.

Jamal Parker

"Jamal Parker is an international poetry slam champion, award winning author, teaching artist, and advertising creative. He also secretly raps once a month, and you can find him playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate on any given weekend," Jamal Parker writes.

Porsha Olayiwola

"Porsha is a native of Chicago who now resides in Boston. Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization. Olayiwola is an MFA Candidate at Emerson College. Porsha Olayiwola is the author of i shimmer sometimes, too forthcoming with Button Poetry and is the current poet laureate for the city of Boston," Porsha Olaywiola writes.

Javon Johnson

"Javon Johnson is an Assistant Professor and Director of African American & African Diaspora studies and holds an appointment in Gender & Sexuality Studies in the Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He received his Ph.D. in Performance Studies with a certificate in Gender Studies and Cognate in African American Studies from Northwestern University in 2010. Dr. Johnson’s scholarly interests include performance, blackness, African American literature, black pop culture, slam and spoken word, black feminist theory, black queer theory, masculinity studies, black sexualities, and ethnography," the University of Nevada, Las Vegas writes.

Danez Smith

"Danez Smith is a Black, Queer, Poz writer & performer from St. Paul, MN. Danez is the author of “Homie," "Don’t Call Us Dead," winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award, and "[insert] boy," winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Montalvo Arts Center, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Danez's work has been featured widely including on Buzzfeed, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, Best American Poetry, Poetry Magazine, and on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Danez has been featured as part of Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list and is the winner of a Pushcart Prize. They are a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is the co-host of VS with Franny Choi, a podcast sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness," Danez Smith writes.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


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