Dynamic Duos | November 14, 2022

Joanne Gabbin 

Joanne Gabbin speaking at the 1994 Furious Flower Conference

Joanne Gabbin was born in 1946 in Baltimore, Maryland. After earning her M.A. and PhD in English from University of Chicago, she began her career as an English instructor in 1971 at Roosevelt University. She went on to serve as an assistant professor of English at Chicago State University and associate professor of English at Lincoln University, before her hiring at James Madison University in 1985. Gabbin went on to direct the James Madison University honors program for nineteen years, and was promoted to professor of English in 1989. 

Gabbin organized the first academic conference on African American poetry, entitled “Furious Flower: A Revolution in African American Poetry,” in 1994 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She convened a second conference, “Furious Flower: Regenerating the Black Poetic Tradition,” in 2004. The conference was so successful in its impact and reach, she established the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University in 2005. In addition to her successful career in academia, Gabbin has published a variety of works, including Sterling A. Brown: Building the Black Aesthetic Tradition (1985), The Furious Flowering of African American Poetry (1999), and Furious Flower: African American Poetry from the Black Arts Movement to the Present (2004). She also published a children’s book, titled I Bet She Called Me Sugar Plum, in 2004. Gabbin is also founder of the Wintergreen Women’s Writers’ Collective, an annual retreat for Black women writers that has continuously gathered since 1987.

Gabbin’s list of numerous awards includes the College Language Association’s Creative Scholarship Award and the Virginia State Council of Higher Education’s Outstanding Faculty Award, as well as James Madison University’s Provost Award for Excellence and a Distinguished Faculty Award. Gabbin retired her position as founding executive director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center in 2022 and is professor emeritus at James Madison University.

Gwendolyn Brooks 

Gwendolyn Brooks speaking at the 1994 Furious Flower Conference

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas and raised in Chicago, Illinois, where she lived until she died in 2000. As an adolescent poet, she was first published in the children’s magazine, American Childhood, and began contributing regularly to the “Lights and Shadows” poetry column of the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper.

After graduating Woodrow Wilson Junior College (now known as Kennedy-King College) in 1936, she worked as a typist to support her writing career. She began to publish poetry books, which often portrayed Black life–the everyday struggles and celebrations. In her lifetime, Brooks published more than 20 collections. These included In the Mecca (1968), a finalist for the National Book Award, and Annie Allen (1949), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, which made Brooks the first Black person to win the award. She published her first and only novel, Maud Martha, in 1953. Brooks also became the first Black writer to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1976 and the first Black woman appointed to serve as the Library of Congress consultant in poetry in 1985 (now, known as the U.S. Poet Laureate). 

Her numerous honors include an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Poetry Society of America Shelley Memorial Award, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. Additionally, Brooks earned more than fifty honorary degrees during her career. In 1995, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts–the highest award given to an artist or arts patron by the U.S. government. 

Toi Derricotte

Toi Derricotte participating in a panel in the 2004 Furious Flower Poetry Conference

Toi Derricotte was born in Hamtramck, Michigan in 1941. She studied special education at Wayne State University, graduating in 1965, and later earned her MA in English Literature from New York University. She worked as a teacher and published her first poetry book, The Empress of the Death House, in 1978.

Derricotte is the author of six poetry collections, including Tender, winner of the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize, The Undertaker’s Daughter (2011), and I: New & Selected Poems (2019), a National Book Award Finalist. She is also the author of the literary memoir, The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey, which won the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. 

In 1996, with poet Cornelius Eady, she founded Cave Canem, a literary organization dedicated to expanding artistic and professional development opportunities for African American poets. The pair won the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community on behalf of Cave Canem. An accomplished writer, Derricotte has also won the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award and the Poetry Society’s Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry, as well as the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, three Pushcart Prizes, and the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from United Black Artists, among others. She has served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and is currently Professor Emerita in writing at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Cornelius Eady

Headshot of Cornelius Eady, www.corneliuseady.com

Cornelius Eady was born in Rochester, New York in 1954. He has taught at various colleges and universities for more than 20 years including SUNY Stony Brook, where he directed its Poetry Center, City College, Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, Sweet Briar College, and The University of Missouri-Columbia. 

His eight collections of poetry, which take heavy inspiration from jazz and the blues, include Hardheaded Weather (2008), which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, Brutal Imagination (2001), finalist for the National Book Award, The Gathering of My Name (1991), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1986), selected for the 1985 Lamont Poetry Prize from The Academy of American Poets. Eady has also worked with jazz composer Deirdre Murray to produce several musical theater performances, including an adaptation of You Don’t Miss Your Water (1997), Running Man (1999), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and Brutal Imagination (2002), which won the Oppenheimer Award for the best first play by an American Playwright.

In 1996, with poet Toi Derricotte, Eady co-founded Cave Canem, a nonprofit literary service organization with the mission to amplify the voices and resources of African American poets. The pair won the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community on behalf of Cave Canem. He is also the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation. Eady is currently the John C. Hodges Chair for Excellence in Poetry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

Sonia Sanchez 

Sonia Sanchez speaking at the 1994 Furious Flower Poetry Conference

Sonia Sanchez, was born in 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama and later raised in Harlem, New York City. She earned a BA in political science from Hunter College in 1955, and continued post-graduate studies at New York University with poet Louise Bogan. She formed a writers’ workshop in Greenwich Village, which became the “Broadside Quartet,” a group of prominent Black Arts Movement artists including Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti and Amiri Baraka.

Sanchez authored more than 20 books, including Homecoming (1969), a seminal text in the Black Arts Movement, Homegirls and Handgrenades (1984), winner of the American Book Award, and Does Your House Have Lions? (1997), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. An influential literary figure who advocates for civil rights, racial justice, and women’s liberation in her work, Sanchez has won numerous honors including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award, the Poetry Society’s Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry, Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award, Robert Creeley Award, The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, and the Jackson Prize, among others. 

Sanchez became the City of Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate in 2001, and was selected as a Ford Freedom Scholar by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Her life and work is explored in BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, an Emmy-nominated documentary, and further in BMA: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review, the first African American journal that discusses her work and impact on the Black Arts Movement. Sanchez has lectured at more than 500 universities and was the Laura Carnell Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Temple University.

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka speaking at the 1994 Furious Flower Poetry Conference

Amiri Baraka was born as Everett Leroy Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University and Howard University, serving for three years in the U.S. Air Force, and continued his studies at Columbia University and the New School for Social Research. A writer of poetry, fiction, drama, essays and music criticism, his publishing career spanned more than five decades. 

Baraka was known for his political and social criticism, which included themes of black liberation, racism, and inequality in the more than 50 books that he penned. In 1958, he founded Yugen magazine and Totem Press, which were important spaces for new verse. He published his first work, a book of poems entitled Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, in 1961, under the name LeRoi Jones. His first major play, The Dutchman, opened in 1964 off-Broadway and earned an Obie Award for Best American Play. Following Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965, Baraka established the Black Arts Repertory Theater in Harlem, New York, which was an important space for Black Arts Movement artists to create and exchange ideas.

Baraka earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Book Award in 1989, and later won an American Book Award for his nonfiction book, Digging: The Afro-American Soul Of American Classical Music (2010). He also received honors from various foundations, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also won the Langston Hughes Award from the City College of New York, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Baraka taught at Columbia University, Rutgers University, and at SUNY Stony Brook, where he was an emeritus professor of Africana Studies. He died in 2014.

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