20 poets, 10 poems, 25 years of National Poetry Month

The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till

  (after the murder,
  after the burial)

Emmett’s mother is a pretty-faced thing;
    the tint of pulled taffy.
She sits in a red room,
    drinking black coffee.
she kisses her killed boy.
    And she is sorry.
Chaos in windy grays
    through a red prairie.

Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) was born in Topeka, Kansas, and raised in Chicago. She wrote more than 20 books of poetry, including A Street in Bronzeville (Harper & Brothers, 1945); Annie Allen (Harper, 1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; The Bean Eaters (Harper, 1960); Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); and Blacks (The David Co., 1987). Among her other books are a novel, Maud Martha (Harper, 1953), and Report from Part One: An Autobiography (Broadside Press, 1972. In 1968 she was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois. In 1985, she was the first Black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, a post now known as poet laureate. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, and a National Endowment for the Arts award, among other honors, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Selected By
Reginald Dwayne Betts
Reginald Dwayne Betts grew up in suburban Washington, DC, and was a high school honor student. At age 16, he was arrested for carjacking, a crime for which Betts served nearly 9 years in prison. During that time, he became a poet, scholar, and advocate for criminal justice reform. Betts wrote about his incarceration in A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery, 2009), which was awarded the 2010 NAACP Image Award for non-fiction. He is also the author of three award-winning collections of poetry: Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015), and Felon (Norton, 2019), named a notable book of the year by the New York Times. Betts holds a BA from the University of Maryland, an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and a JD from Yale Law School, where he is currently a PhD candidate.
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