100 books like Selected Poems

By Gwendolyn Brooks,

Here are 100 books that Selected Poems fans have personally recommended if you like Selected Poems. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Native Guard

Gabriel Spera Author Of Twisted Pairs: Poems

From my list on for people who enjoy poetry that looks like poetry.

Why am I passionate about this?

I can’t guess how many great poems I have committed to memory. In waiting rooms, or in the checkout line, I recite them to myself. In this way, poetry helps me not only understand the world we live in, but live in it without going crazy. And while I love all poetry, I’ve always found that poetry in traditional forms—with meter and rhyme—is easier to remember. That’s one reason why I’ve always been drawn to formal verse. In my own poetry, I strive to uphold that tradition, while inventing new forms that spring organically from the subject at hand. I trust these books will demonstrate I’m not alone.

Gabriel's book list on for people who enjoy poetry that looks like poetry

Gabriel Spera Why did Gabriel love this book?

This book, justly honored with the Pulitzer Prize, surprised me with its formal range and intensity of experience.

Trethewey is celebrated as a chronicler of our collective history, but I was far more taken with the poems of personal history—and, more specifically, personal loss. The poems that examine the absence left by her mother’s untimely death are, to me, the defining poems of the book. These often exemplify her gift for presenting the most telling detail or selecting the word that will resonate on the broadest level.

Let me hone in on one poem, “Myth,” a recasting of the Orpheus story. What astonished me about this poem was the formal structure. It consists of two sections of nine lines, each arranged in terza rima stanzas. The second section rewrites the first half—in reverse! The effect is to convey the experience of descending into the darkness of the underworld and then…

By Natasha Tretheway,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Native Guard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry and former U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey's elegiac Native Guard is a deeply personal volume that brings together two legacies of the Deep South.
The title of the collection refers to the Mississippi Native Guards, a black regiment whose role in the Civil War has been largely overlooked by history. As a child in Gulfport, Mississippi, in the 1960s, Trethewey could gaze across the water to the fort on Ship Island where Confederate captives once were guarded by black soldiers serving the Union cause.?
The racial legacy of the South touched Trethewey's…


Book cover of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song: A Library of America Anthology

Hollis Robbins Author Of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

From my list on Black poetry.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.

Hollis' book list on Black poetry

Hollis Robbins Why did Hollis love this book?

Kevin Young’s anthology is the latest in a long line of Black poetry anthologies; the first was James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which Young duly acknowledges. Most of Young’s choices I agree with; some I don’t (at least one of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s great sonnets should have been included); but in the main it is a terrific anthology of poets historical up to the present day. I counted almost 40 sonnets among the poems included. Readers who are interested in the dates the poems were published can turn to an extensive set of notes in the back, which are really helpful.

By Kevin Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked African American Poetry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A literary landmark: the biggest, most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published, gathering 250 poets from the colonial period to the present

Across a turbulent history, from such vital centers as Harlem, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, Black poets created a rich and multifaceted tradition that has been both a reckoning with American realities and an imaginative response to them. Capturing the power and beauty of this diverse tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry reveals as never before its centrality and its challenge to American poetry and culture.

One of the great…


Book cover of Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry

Hollis Robbins Author Of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

From my list on Black poetry.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.

Hollis' book list on Black poetry

Hollis Robbins Why did Hollis love this book?

Nadia Nurhussein’s book is critically important for understanding the role of dialect poetry in the African American poetic tradition. It is all too easy to dismiss the popularity of dialect poetry in America—including Black dialect—as an embarrassing phase in American taste and particularly problematic for poetry used in minstrelsy but Nurhussein argues for the importance of the craft of dialect poetry and the remarkable brilliance of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s work along with many other poets working in many other dialects.

By Nadia Nurhussein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rhetorics of Literacy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Rhetorics of Literacy: The Cultivation of American Dialect Poetry explores the production and reception of dialect poetry in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America and investigates the genre’s rhetorical interest in where sound meets print. Dialect poetry’s popularity stems not only from its use as an entertaining distraction from “serious” poetry, but as a surprisingly complicated pedagogical tool collaborating with elite literary culture. Indeed, the intersections of the oral and textual aspects of the dialect poem, visible in both its composition and its reception, resulted in confusing and contradictory interactions with the genre.

 

In this innovative study, Nadia Nurhussein demonstrates…


Book cover of Faster Than Light: New and Selected Poems, 1996-2011

Hollis Robbins Author Of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

From my list on Black poetry.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.

Hollis' book list on Black poetry

Hollis Robbins Why did Hollis love this book?

Marilyn Nelson’s poetry is staggeringly good, particularly the way she writes formal poems—sonnets!—in a humble voice, like her sonnet “From an Alabama Farmer.” Nelson’s poem “To the Confederate Dead,” with its epigraph by Allen Tate is a better poem than Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead,” with which it is in conversation. Nelson’s ‘wreath’ of sonnets, “A Wreath for Emmett Till,” is simply sublime.

By Marilyn Nelson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Faster Than Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Conjuring numerous voices and characters across oceans and centuries, Faster Than Light explores widely disparate experiences through the lens of traditional poetic forms. This volume contains a selection of Marilyn Nelson's new and uncollected poems as well as work from each of her lyric histories of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century African American individuals and communities.

Poems include the stories of historical figures like Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old boy lynched in 1955, and the inhabitants of Seneca Village, an African American community razed in 1857 for the creation of Central Park. ""Bivouac in a Storm"" tells the story of a group…


Book cover of Sistuhs in the Struggle: An Oral History of Black Arts Movement Theater and Performance

Jonathan Shandell Author Of The American Negro Theatre and the Long Civil Rights Era

From my list on Black culture and history in the Civil Rights era.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a theater historian whose research focuses on African American theater of 1940s-50s. While other periods and movements—the Harlem Renaissance (1920s), the Federal Theatre Project (1930s), the Black Arts Movement (1960s), and contemporary theater—have been well studied and documented, I saw a gap of scholarship around the 1940s-50s; I wondered why those years had been largely overlooked. As I dived deeper, I saw how African American performance culture (ie. theater, film, television, music) of the later-20th Century had its roots in the history of those somewhat overlooked decades. I’m still investigating that story, and these books have helped me do it.

Jonathan's book list on Black culture and history in the Civil Rights era

Jonathan Shandell Why did Jonathan love this book?

We tend to think about the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s as dominated by militant male voices. This book explores the rich contributions of black women artists to the movement—by amplifying the voices of women artists in their own words. The book is a collection of oral histories, drawing on dozens of interviews with influential Black women artists. Some of them are recognizable, like playwrights/poets Sonia Sanchez and Ntozake Shange. Others are less familiar names whose influence should be appreciated more fully. This is a rich celebration of the impact of women artists during a key period of African American cultural change.

By La Donna Forsgren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sistuhs in the Struggle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first oral history to fully explore the contributions of black women intellectuals to the Black Arts Movement, Sistuhs in the Struggle reclaims a vital yet under-researched chapter in African American, women's, and theater history. This groundbreaking study documents how black women theater artists and activists-many of whom worked behind the scenes as directors, designers, producers, stage managers, and artistic directors-disseminated the black aesthetic and emboldened their communities.

Drawing on nearly thirty original interviews with well-known artists such as Ntozake Shange and Sonia Sanchez as well as less-studied figures including distinguished lighting designer Shirley Prendergast, dancer and choreographer Halifu Osumare,…


Book cover of Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis Author Of The New College Classroom

From my list on inspiring lifelong learning.

Why are we passionate about this?

We are two college-level educators, one has had a long career, one a recent PhD. We share a commitment to lifelong learning, not just in the classroom but beyond. And we love learning from one another. We wrote The New College Classroom together during the pandemic, meeting over Zoom twice a week, discussing books by other educators, writing and revising and rewriting every word together, finding ways to think about improving our students’ lives for a better future even as the world seemed grim. The books we cherish share those values: hope, belief in the next generation, and a deep commitment to learning even in—especially in—the grimmest of times.

Christina's book list on inspiring lifelong learning

Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis Why did Christina love this book?

Although her father died when she was only nine, the great scholar of African American life and literature, Farah Jasmine Griffin has never forgotten his admonition to her: “Read until you understand.” In this beautiful book, Professor Griffin guides us to an understanding of the U.S. Constitution, Malcolm X, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, the artist Romare Bearden, and writers as different as the enslaved 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. As educators, we have read and re-read and read again. Every read reveals a new level of understanding and we are grateful for the journey on which Professor Griffin leads us.

By Farah Jasmine Griffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Read Until You Understand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Farah Jasmine Griffin has taken to her heart the phrase "read until you understand," a line her father, who died when she was nine, wrote in a note to her. She has made it central to this book about love of the majestic power of words and love of the magnificence of Black life. Griffin has spent years rooted in the culture of Black genius and the legacy of books that her father left her. A beloved professor, she has devoted herself to passing these works and their wisdom on to generations of students.

Here, she shares a lifetime of…


Book cover of Forgotten Readers: Recovering the Lost History of African American Literary Societies

John Ernest Author Of A Nation Within a Nation: Organizing African American Communities before the Civil War

From my list on early African American community activism.

Why am I passionate about this?

Good question. Why would a white guy be passionate about nineteenth-century African American community building and activism? It’s a long story, but the short version is that by the time I reached graduate school, I could no longer avoid the realization that I had been dramatically miseducated about American history, and that the key to American history—one important key, anyway—is African American history. You can’t understand what it means to be an American if you don’t know this history, and you can’t understand our own very troubled times, or how to respond to these times, how to turn frustration into action, unless you know this history. So I developed my expertise over the years. 

John's book list on early African American community activism

John Ernest Why did John love this book?

If you think that literary societies have nothing to do with African American community activism, then this book will make you think again. African Americans were excluded from schools, libraries, and most of the usual publishing outlets—but they still developed a vibrant culture that produced newspapers, pamphlets, and books, and they developed libraries and literary societies committed to reading these and other productions. McHenry expertly guides us through this relatively unknown but central culture of reading, tracing the rise of African American literary societies, the work of the Black Press, and the vital connection between reading, writing, and social reform efforts. These efforts were supported by broader African American organizational efforts, the creation of churches and mutual aid societies that provided refuge for readers and forums for writers, and McHenry explores the social and intellectual networks that developed from these efforts, as African Americans read their way to new visions…

By Elizabeth McHenry,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Forgotten Readers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over the past decade the popularity of black writers including E. Lynn Harris and Terry McMillan has been hailed as an indication that an active African American reading public has come into being. Yet this is not a new trend; there is a vibrant history of African American literacy, literary associations, and book clubs. Forgotten Readers reveals that neglected past, looking at the reading practices of free blacks in the antebellum north and among African Americans following the Civil War. It places the black upper and middle classes within American literary history, illustrating how they used reading and literary conversation…


Book cover of Transforming Scriptures: African American Women Writers and the Bible

Joy Schroeder Author Of Voices Long Silenced: Women Biblical Interpreters Through the Centurie

From my list on women who interpreted the Bible.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a historian with expertise in the early church, Middle Ages, and Reformation, I am obsessed with finding the writings and stories of women of the past. Whenever we discover works written by an unknown or forgotten woman in an archive or historical record, my co-author Marion Taylor and I excitedly email one another: “We rescued another woman!” I study the history of biblical interpretation and the history of women in religion. In most of my books, these two interests intersect—as I write about men throughout history who viewed stories of biblical women through patriarchal lenses and how women themselves have been biblical interpreters, often challenging men’s prevailing views. 

Joy's book list on women who interpreted the Bible

Joy Schroeder Why did Joy love this book?

Drawing upon her expertise in African American literature, Katherine Clay Bassard writes about the ways Black women poets, novelists, preachers, and orators from the 1700s through the 1900s used biblical themes and images to challenge the dominant culture’s oppression of women and people of color. African American women used a variety of scriptural images, including the Queen of Sheba and the “black but comely” female speaker in the Song of Songs, to argue for Black women’s dignity. Bassard celebrates African American women’s creativity and their shrewd employment of scriptural passages to engage in resistance to racism and sexism.   

By Katherine Clay Bassard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Transforming Scriptures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Black women writers reclaim the sacred text. ""Transforming Scriptures"" is the first sustained treatment of African American women writers' intellectual, even theological, engagements with the book ""Northrup Frye"" referred to as the 'great code' of Western civilization. Katherine Clay Bassard looks at poetry, novels, speeches, sermons, and prayers by Maria W. Stewart, Frances Harper, Hannah Crafts, Harriet E. Wilson, Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Sherley Anne Williams and discusses how such texts respond as a collective 'literary witness' to the use of the Bible for purposes of social domination. Black women's historic encounters with the Bible were,…


Book cover of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

Jane Clarke Author Of A Change in the Air

From my list on making you fall in love with nature poetry.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since my childhood on a farm poetry has helped me pay attention to the world around me. Like a naturalist’s field guide, nature poems name, depict, and explore what might otherwise pass unnoticed. Now in the midst of environmental crisis I believe poets have a role alongside ecologists, farmers, and foresters to protect and restore our threatened habitats and species. Writing nature poetry helps me face and express loss while celebrating what still survives. I value poetry that connects us to what we love and gives us courage to imagine different ways of living.

Jane's book list on making you fall in love with nature poetry

Jane Clarke Why did Jane love this book?

This is an exciting and important poetry anthology.

Spanning the history of black poetry in America, the editor Camille T. Dungy has collected one hundred and eighty poems by ninety-three poets. Her introduction radically enlarges the realm of eco-poetry as she considers the exclusion of African-American poets from the nature poetry genre while also exploring the complexity of their relationship with the land that witnessed or abetted centuries of racist subjugation.

Thought-provoking essays by Alice Walker, Marilyn Nelson, and others, introduce each of the ten sections in which I found a treasure trove of poets I’ve long admired, such as Rita Dove and Ross Gay, and poets I’ve never come across before, such as Kamilah Aisha Moon.

By Camille T. Dungy (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book presents the natural world seen through the eyes of black poets. ""Black Nature"" is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated. Black poets have a long tradition of incorporating treatments of the natural world into their work, but it is often read as political, historical, or protest poetry - anything but nature poetry. This is particularly true when the definition of what constitutes nature writing is limited to work about the pastoral or the…


Book cover of Aberrations in Black: Toward A Queer Of Color Critique

Merrill Cole Author Of The Other Orpheus: A Poetics of Modern Homosexuality

From my list on queer theory to gain an understanding of the field.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been pondering philosophical questions and trying to understand my queer sexuality since childhood. While checking out The Portable Nietzsche in my high school library, the librarian warned me the philosopher was “a bad man.” Then I had to read the book, which not only taught me to become critical of all forms of authority, but also, perhaps paradoxically, empowered me to embrace my queerness. As a college and graduate student, I studied many of the American academic movements based in Continental philosophy grouped under the rubric, “theory.” When queer theory emerged in the early 1990s’, I found a place for myself. I'm convinced that we should never stop putting our identities under critique.

Merrill's book list on queer theory to gain an understanding of the field

Merrill Cole Why did Merrill love this book?

Aberrations in Black is not the only important early queer of color intervention in queer theory, but I find it the most rewarding.

Showing how signal works in the African-American literary tradition pose important challenges to social norms and to the sociological discourse of their times, Ferguson advances an intersectional critique that forefronts race and also attends to gender, sexuality, and class.

The book’s brilliant close readings, such as the reading Toni Morrison’s Sula in the context of The Moynihan Report particularly stand out. The book is a corrective to the apparent colorblindness of much of early queer theory.

By Roderick A. Ferguson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Aberrations in Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A hard-hitting look at the regulation of sexual difference and its role in circumscribing African American culture

The sociology of race relations in America typically describes an intersection of poverty, race, and economic discrimination. But what is missing from the picture-sexual difference-can be as instructive as what is present. In this ambitious work, Roderick A. Ferguson reveals how the discourses of sexuality are used to articulate theories of racial difference in the field of sociology. He shows how canonical sociology-Gunnar Myrdal, Ernest Burgess, Robert Park, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and William Julius Wilson-has measured African Americans's unsuitability for a liberal capitalist…


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