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From Phillis Wheatley — America’s first published black female poet — to beloved writers Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, the contributions of black lyricists have revolutionized the country’s arts and social landscape.
Observed annually on Oct. 17, Black Poetry Day is an unofficial holiday celebrating past and present African-American poets. According to the African American Registry, the holiday “may have started as an anniversary of the first published African-American poet, Jupiter Hammon, who was born into slavery in 1711 on Long Island.”
The organization urges schools and the general public to spend the day appreciating black authors and sharing their contributions with friends and family.
In honor of the holiday, we rounded up some of our favorite quotes from some of the most prominent black poets in history.
1. “Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes (The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes)
2. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
― James Baldwin (Quoted in "Doom and glory of knowing who you are" by Jane Howard, in LIFE magazine)
3. “In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”
― Phillis Wheatley (From a letter to the Reverend Samson Occom after Wheatley was free and published repeatedly in Boston newspapers)
4. “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
― Maya Angelou (Letter to My Daughter)
5. “Live not for Battles Won.
Live not for The-End-of-the-Song.
Live in the along.” ― Gwendolyn Brooks (Report from Part One)
6. “The torture of being the unseen object, and the constantly observed subject.”
― Amiri Baraka (The System of Dante’s Hell)
7. “I love you because no two snowflakes are alike, and it is possible, if you stand tippy-toe, to walk between the raindrops.”
― Nikki Giovanni (Resignation)