Celebrating the Life of Poet Laureate Dolores Kendrick

We at the Furious Flower Poetry Center are saddened by the passing of poet Dolores Kendrick. Join us as we pay tribute to her life and work.

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Memorial Tribute to Dolores Kendrick

September 7, 1927 – November 7, 2017

At the first Furious Flower Conference in 1994, Dolores Kendrick’s listeners rose spontaneously to their feet when they heard her poems “Hattie on the Block” and the haunting “Peggy in Killing.”  They were, in effect, giving witness to the historical, political, and social pulls on their understanding of American slavery and the weight of guilt and shame that charges it with tension. While they were transported to the past in the necessary act of cultural (re)memory, they were moved by identification and discovery to respond to Dolores Kendrick’s call for community and spiritual communion. As we acknowledge the passing of this major poetic voice, we too bear witness to the significance of this poet who expressed a profound sense of the numinous in her poetry. Through a creative process that she admitted not totally understanding herself, Dolores Kendrick was able to summon voices with a vitality that rivaled reality.  With a language rich in metaphor, music, and evocation, she bore spiritual witness to the complexity and meaning of African American life and culture.

                                                                                                                              --Joanne V. Gabbin

Biography: Dolores Kendrick, Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia


Native Washingtonian Dolores Kendrick was appointed Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia on May 14, 1999 with a mayoral proclamation declaring it Dolores Kendrick Day. Kendrick was the second person honored with that title.  The first D.C. Poet Laureate was Sterling Brown, appointed in 1984.

She authored the award-winning poetry book The Women of Plums in 1989. A CD consisting of music based upon The Women of Plums was released in 1996.  Kendrick adapted her book for a theatrical performance in Cleveland, OH, and later at the Kennedy Center.  She was the author of four other books: Through the Ceiling, Now is the Thing to Praise, Why the Woman is Singing on the Corner, and Rainbow on Fire, published just before her death.   

She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the George Kent Award for Literature, the Anisfield-Wolf Award, the Furious Flower Lifetime Achievement Award and was the first Vira l. Heinz Professor Emerita at Phillips Exeter Academy.  She was commissioned to write two poems for the Red Line Station at New York and Florida Avenues.   Another poem was included in a sculpture at the Pepco Building in downtown Washington. Her literary activism in her role as Poet Laureate of DC was a great joy in her life.

Dolores Kendrick was chosen by Chicago State University to join the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African-American Descent.  She was invited by the educational community in Aix-en-Provence, France and the American Embassy in Paris to do a program of readings and conversations with high school students, student teachers and university professors.  The outcome of this collaboration was the establishment of a sister city initiative between Aix and the District of Columbia.  A poem, written in Shanghai China during her teaching assignment at the Shanghai School of Foreign Languages, was presented in both English and Mandarin to a Chinese delegation who requested it while visiting Washington, DC.  She was also the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree from St. Bonaventure University in Upstate New York.  Kendrick also read at the Library of Congress and was selected to be one of six state Poets Laureate to read at the Annual Library of Congress Poetry Reading in September 2011.

Published: Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, November 9, 2017

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