cover image African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song

Edited by Kevin Young. Library of America, $45 (1,170p) ISBN 978-1-59853-666-9

In this necessary and unprecedented anthology, Young (Books of Hours) collects poems by more than 250 poets from the colonial period to the present. Young writes in his introduction that his aim is to provide “a comprehensive look at the centuries of song and struggle that make up African American verse, a legacy that is fruitful and large enough to barely be represented by one volume.” And yet this ambitious volume offers an impressive variety of styles and aesthetics, juxtaposing different historical moments to provide a rich, panoramic assembly of voices. Aptly, the book opens with 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley’s “On Imagination,” whose lines ask: “Imagination! who can sing thy force?/ Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?” In the sixth section, Essex Hemphill’s gorgeous poem “My Protection” begins: “I want to start/ an organization/ to save my life.” The final section, “After the Hurricane (2009–2020),” features poems from Hanif Abdurraqib, Reginald Dwayne Bates, Danez Smith, and other young writers. With this monumental work, Young has provided a lasting contribution to historical preservation and poetry. (Oct.)