It’s time for another post to help you out with our 2021 Bookish Bingo Challenge! Below, you’ll find some recommendations for books of poetry by authors who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. I’ve tried to focus on new releases in this post as well. Some of the poets might be unfamiliar, but perhaps even those whose names you recognize will have a new book listed that you weren’t aware had come out!
And because no post like this could hope to be comprehensive, and because poetry particularly lends itself to anthologies, I’ve also added a little bit at the end about relevant ones. Descriptions below taken from the publishers via Edelweiss+.
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo (2019) – or listen on Audiobook!
A stunning new volume from the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, informed by her tribal history and connection to the land.
In the early 1800s, the Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma. Two hundred years later, Joy Harjo returns to her family’s lands and opens a dialogue with history. In An American Sunrise, Harjo finds blessings in the abundance of her homeland and confronts the site where her people, and other indigenous families, essentially disappeared. From her memory of her mother’s death, to her beginnings in the native rights movement, to the fresh road with her beloved, Harjo’s personal life intertwines with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings. Her poems sing of beauty and survival, illuminating a spirituality that connects her to her ancestors and thrums with the quiet anger of living in the ruins of injustice. A descendent of storytellers and “one of our finest—and most complicated—poets” (Los Angeles Review of Books), Joy Harjo continues her legacy with this latest powerful collection.
The Half-God of Rainfall by Inua Ellams (2020)
From the award-winning poet and playwright behind Barber Shop Chronicles, The Half-God of Rainfall is an epic story and a lyrical exploration of pride, power and female revenge.
There is something about Demi. When this boy is angry, rain clouds gather. When he cries, rivers burst their banks and the first time he takes a shot on a basketball court, the deities of the land take note.
His mother, Modupe, looks on with a mixture of pride and worry. From close encounters, she knows Gods often act like men: the same fragile egos, the same unpredictable fury and the same sense of entitlement to the bodies of mortals.
She will sacrifice everything to protect her son, but she knows the Gods will one day tire of sports fans, their fickle allegiances and misdirected prayers. When that moment comes, it won’t matter how special he is. Only the women in Demi’s life, the mothers, daughters and Goddesses, will stand between him and a lightning bolt.
Earth Keeper by N. Scott Momaday (2020)
A beautifully written and poignant tribute to the Earth, from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday.
One of the most distinguished voices in American letters, N. Scott Momaday has devoted much of his life to celebrating and preserving Native American culture, especially its oral tradition. A member of the Kiowa tribe who was born and grew up on Indian reservations throughout the Southwest, Momaday has a deep attachment to the land he knows well and loves deeply.
In Earth Keeper: Reflections on an American Land, Momaday reflects on his native ground and its influence on his people and the person he is. “When I think about my life and the lives of my ancestors, I am inevitably led to the conviction that I, and they, belong to the American land. This is a declaration of belonging. And it is an offering to the earth.” he writes.
Earth Keeper is a story of attachment, rooted in oral tradition. Momaday recalls stories of his childhood that have been passed down through generations, stories that reveal a profound and sacred connection to the American landscape and a reverence for the natural world.
In this moving work, he offers an homage and a warning. Momaday reminds us that the Earth is a sacred place of wonder and beauty; a source of strength and healing that must be protected before it’s too late.
As he so eloquently yet simply reminds us, we must all be keepers of the Earth.
Afterland by Mai Der Vang (2017)
The 2016 winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Carolyn Forché
When I make the crossing, you must not be taken no matter what
the current gives. When we reach the camp,
there will be thousands like us.
If I make it onto the plane, you must follow me to the roads
and waiting pastures of America.
We will not ride the water today on the shoulders of buffalo
as we used to many years ago, nor will we forage
for the sweetest mangoes.
I am refugee. You are too. Cry, but do not weep.
Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family, and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known or understood, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.
My note: this is the oldest book in the list, but she also has a book set to come out later this year! So keep an eye out for it in September: Yellow Rain, which is described as a combination of “documentary, poetry, and collage.”
There are a lot of anthologies out there, so I’ve also decided to prioritize ones that are relatively new here – while the poems inside might span decades, all these anthologies are from 2020 or 2021:
And, of course, it’s always worth checking out The Best American Poetry 2020.