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Black Poetry Day: October 17, 2021

Credit: Jon Tyson

On October 17th, 1711, Jupiter Hammon was born into slavery in Lloyd Neck, Long Island, New York. Hammon was encouraged to attend school by the Lloyd family, whom he was enslaved to. Through his schooling, Hammon learned how to read and write--eventually creating works of his own. He eventually became a significant member of the African American community after his first publication.

Black Poetry Day falls on Hammon's birthday because he is widely known as one of the founders of early American and African American writing. This day is centered on the importance of black heritage and literacy while also recognizing and appreciating contributions made by black poets and authors.

In the years Jupiter Hammon was enslaved by Henry Lloyd, he was heavily invested in his education as well as working alongside Henry Lloyd as a bookkeeper. Very early on, Hammon was extremely invested and influenced by the Great Awakening, leading him to become a devout Christian--which can be seen in his works.

In 1761, Hammon published his first poem "An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen's Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760" Nearly two decades passed before Hammon published his second poem, "An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley" This poem includes a series of four-line verses, known as quatrains, with accompanying Bible verses. Hammon addresses Wheatley in this poem, who was the most significant African American poet of this time. The last poem Hammon published before he passed was titled "A

Poem for Children With Thoughts on Death." (section of it is included here)

After moving to Connecticut in 1763, Hammon became a leader in the African American community and attended abolitionist and Revolutionary War societies. In September 1786, Hammon delivered his most famous speech, "Address to the Negroes of the State of New York" to the ASNYC. This led to his writing being reprinted by several abolitionist societies.

Although the date of his death still remains unknown, Jupiter Hammon remains to be the face of Black Poetry Day and creating a legacy for more Black poets to come.

Born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni, Jr., on June 7, 1943, Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Giovanni is a revolutionary American poet during the Civil Rights Movement. Her poems ranged from Black power to poems for children. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Knoxville, Tennessee. After she earned her B.A. from Nashville's Fisk University, she fully committed to the Civil Rights Movement.

Giovanni's first collection of poems, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), Black Judgement (1968), and Re: Creation (1970) all center on the Black experience. Her love for spoken word came from the intense appreciation for African American culture and heritage from her grandmother.

Her first published volumes of poetry were generated from her response to the assassinations of iconic figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, Medgar Evans, and Robert Kennedy--those who sought to raise awareness of the rights of Black people. One of her works, Black Feeling Black Talk sold over ten thousand copies in its first year and Giovanni was growing as a prominent voice in African American literature.

Over the years, Giovanni has received a lot of awards and recognition for her work, including seven NAACP Image Awards, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, and many more. She was commissioned by NPR's All Things Considered to create an inaugural poem for President Barack Obama, titled "Roll Call: A Song of Celebration". Nikki Giovanni has taught and presented at many colleges and universities across the country. Recently in 2017 she presented at a TEDx event, reading the poem: "My Sister and Me". After reading her poem, Giovanni says, "Sometimes you can write a poem because damnit, you want to."

Works Cited

Academy of American Poets. “About Jupiter Hammon | Academy of American Poets.”, 2019, Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.

“BLACK POETRY DAY - October 17.” National Day Calendar, 19 Oct. 2020, Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.

Jupiter Hammon. “A Poem for Children with Thoughts on Death By… | Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation, 2021, Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.

“Jupiter Hammon | Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation, 2021, Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.

Nicolaou, Elena. “The Best Poems by Nikki Giovanni That Made Her a Legend.” Oprah Daily, Oprah Daily, 24 July 2020, Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

“Nikki Giovanni | Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation, 2020, Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

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