Letter to the Editor from Lee Bennett Hopkins, July/August 1990

July/August 1990 Horn Book

To the Editor,

It is a fact: Eloise Greenfield is the only Black writer of children’s poetry currently being published in the United States; her latest volume, Nathaniel Talking (Black Butterfly Children’s Books), appeared in 1989.

It seems quite incredible that, with over four thousand books for children being published annual, America is not seeing work produced by Black poets.

It is disturbing that such work is not more visible or readily available to educators and children of all races.

Poetry about the Black experience continues to dwindle.

Langston Hughes is represented, in print, only by The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (Knopf), a volume published in 1932, with illustrations so stereotyped I cannot, will not, bring them to the attention of children I work with, Black or white. 

Gwendolyn Brooks’s sole book of poetry for children, Bronzeville Boys and Girls (Harper), was published in 1956.

Of the seven Everett Anderson titles by Lucille Clifton, only three remain in print: Some of the Days of Everett Anderson, Everett Anderson’s Nine Month Long, and Everett Anderson’s Goodbye (all Holt).

Nikki Giovanni’s last book of poems for young readers, Vacation Time (Morrow), was published in 1980. 

Where have all the Black poets gone?

At the end of Lucille Clifton’s moving autobiography, Generations (Random), she states: “our lives are more than the days in them, our lives are lines and we go on.”

But will Black voices, Black lives go on through poetry if the lines do not come?

It is hard enough in the fledgling beginnings of the 1990s to “hold fast to dreams.” If the dreams do not come – if the hopes, aspirations, thoughts, and feelings of Black American poets are not written about, how can any of us hold fast?

Perhaps it is time to begin to ponder this loss – to call forward, aggressively nurture newer talents; to be concerned.

Lee Bennett Hopkins
Scarborough, New York

Horn Book
Horn Book

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