… we are each other’s


we are each other’s


we are each other’s

magnitude and bond.

Gwendolyn Brooks, “Paul Robeson,” Blacks (p. 496)

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Phillis Wheatley published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) and planted the seeds of Black poetic expression in this country amid the turmoil of suspicion concerning her authenticity as a writer, her literary genius, even her humanity. As a very young, enslaved woman, she decided to use her literary gifts to weigh in on the status of the free and the unfree in eighteenth-century Boston. Even though she lived to be only 31 years old, she left a legacy of excellence that Black writers have used for two and a half centuries to inspire their own poetry and the traditions that continue to shape the creation of their poetic works. The audience for Black poetry has grown as rapidly as its creators: through its anthologies, internationally distributed videos, its online presence, its readings and programs.

In the middle of the twentieth century, Gwendolyn Brooks tended her own garden and became the first Black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry collection, Annie Allen (1949). In this volume Brooks portrayed a Bronzeville woman whose odyssey is chronicled through the streets and kitchenettes of Chicago‘s South Side. In language that is richly clad in irony and indirection, Brooks confounded our expectation of the ordinariness of Annie’s existence. With Annie Allen and the many other characters, we get, through Brooks’s artistry, their perspectives on segregation, racism, nationalism, individualism, militarism, and many of the issues that complicate Black life in post-war America.

In 1994, when I honored Gwendolyn Brooks for her linguistic genius and Black poetic excellence, I chose fortuitously the phrase “furious flower” for the title of the conference because it ingeniously described not only the woman but also the literary era that she inspired:

The time

cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face

all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.

“The Second Sermon on the Warpland,” Blacks (p. 456)

Brooks and her contemporaries had witnessed a revolution in African American expression as newer, more radical voices took the stage and ushered in a period of Black self-determination, racial pride, and militancy. At this first historic Furious Flower conference, I saw four generations of Black poets and critics coming together at James Madison University in the largest gathering of its kind. The miracle of this event was the magnificent bond that each poet experienced with the other poets. Toi Derricotte, poet and the co-founder of Cave Canem, in a note that she sent to me in November 2023 said, “In 1994 I saw something I had never seen before, all kinds of black poets meeting under the same roof, studying, loving each other, and working together…I felt the universe had shifted on its axis, and I told you so.” She could not have expressed better what so many of us felt: “we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Over the last thirty years, Furious Flower has effectively changed the universe of Black poetry in America. Through its anthologies, internationally distributed videos, its online presence, its readings and programs, the audience for Black poetry has grown as rapidly as its creators. I believe that is the strength of this new collection of online curricula called the Furious Flower Syllabus: Opening the World of Black Poetry. It is a way to calibrate the dramatic outpouring of poetry that comments on a world that is dangerously divided, yet ripe for peacebuilding, a world that is fractured by greed and exploitation, yet still greening with life and possibility. The collection is coming at a time when there is a concerted effort to rewrite Black history and erase Black culture. Yet this project, evidence of the harvest of Black poetry, is counterintuitive to this notion. This Syllabus Project is also the fulfillment of a vision that I had in 1994 to not only have a conference that would highlight the amazing poetic flowering evident in the final years of the twentieth century, but also to develop a series of critical essays, interviews and readings that would help teachers at all academic levels teach Black poetry in the future.

The Furious Flower Syllabus Project is a further iteration of this vision. The editors, McKinley E. Melton and Susan Facknitz, and more than twenty dedicated authors have teamed up to provide educational materials and lesson plans to help students at all levels engage in meaningful discussions about poetic forms, sensory language, writing history, writing identity, understanding contemporary life, and exploring the Black literary genius that Phillis Wheatley discovered in herself so many years ago. My sincere congratulations go out to all involved for the stellar job that they have done with the Furious Flower Syllabus Project. They have succeeded in creating a publication that will grow poets and open minds to the world of Black poetry that awaits them.


Joanne V. Gabbin, Ph.D.

Founder of the Furious Flower Poetry Center

Professor Emerita at James Madison University


Preface Copyright © 2024 by Anastacia-Reneé; allia abdullah-matta; Ariana Benson; Mary Beth Cancienne; Teri Ellen Cross Davis; Shameka Cunningham; Hayes Davis; Tyree Daye; Angel C. Dye; Brian Hannon; T.J. Hendrix; DaMaris B. Hill; Meta DuEwa Jones; Shauna M. Morgan; Adrienne Danyelle Oliver; Leona Sevick; James Smethurst; Dana A. Williams; L. Lamar Wilson; Carmin Wong; Dave Wooley; and Joanne V. Gabbin (preface). All Rights Reserved.

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