This sample Naomi Long Madgett Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
One of the first African American women to publish poetry in the United States, Naomi Long Madgett wrote her first collection of poems, Songs to a Phantom Nightingale (1941), while in high school. Though Madgett did not set out to write African American” poetry, she was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement to address racial issues from an African American perspective. in addition to her work as a poet, Madgett has also made her mark as an educator and, since 1974, editor of Lotus Press, a company dedicated to publishing African American authors.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Minister’s Daughter
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, on July 5, 1923, Madgett spent her childhood in East Orange, New Jersey, where her father served as a Baptist minister. Encouraged by her parents, she was an avid reader from a very young age and often sat on the floor of her father’s study when she was no more than seven or eight, eagerly reading Aesop’s fables and Robert T. Kerlin’s anthology Negro Poets and Their Poems (1923). In addition to perusing poetry by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Langston Hughes, Madgett studied a speech book that her mother had used as a student at Virginia State College, and she memorized some of its poems for the impromptu recitations that she, as a minister’s daughter, was often called upon to give.
New School, New Worlds
When Madgett was fourteen, her father moved the family from East Orange to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was exposed to a new world. In East Orange, she had studied at an integrated school but was the only black child in her class. At the all-African American Sumner High School in St. Louis, however, she discovered that the achievements of African Americans were respected and honored publicly. At her new school, Madgett, who had been composing poems since she was a young child, was encouraged to continue her writing. Many of her poems from this time reflect the influence of her education at Sumner—her use of Latin phrases and mythological and classical references, for example—while others are inspired by informal educational experiences, such as an overheard street-corner conversation between two homeless men that lent itself to Madgett’s earliest uses of colloquial diction and rhythms. In 1941, Madgett published her first collection, Songs to a Phantom Nightingale, a few days after graduating from high school.
In the early 1940s, Madgett attended Virginia State College, earning a BA in 1945. She then began graduate study at New York University, but she withdrew after one semester to marry Julian F. Witherspoon. She moved with him to Detroit in 1946. There Madgett worked as a reporter and copyreader for the Michigan Chronicle, an African American weekly, until the birth of her only child in 1947. Because of her obligations as a wife and mother, Madgett did little creative writing. In 1948, her marriage ended, and she worked as a service representative for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company, a position she held until she married William H. Madgett in 1954. Though this marriage also ended in divorce six years later, she has retained Madgett’s name.
An African American Poet?
Madgett completed the requirements for a master’s degree at Wayne University and began teaching in Detroit public high schools in 1955. The following year, her second book of poetry, One and the Many (1956), was published. More innovative than her first book, the collection is a record of Madgett’s life up to the mid- 1950s and reveals her determination to pursue a career as a poet. One and the Many also includes several poems with African American themes, including “Refugee,” which had been written more than ten years earlier and was chosen by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps for their anthology The Poetry of the Negro: 1746-1949 (1949). However, the selection and ordering of poems in One and the Many reflects Madgett’s concern with being stereotyped as an African American poet, as opposed to being considered simply a poet.
Madgett’s next book, Star by Star (1965), contains “Midway,” originally written in 1957. This is probably Madgett’s best-known poem; its speaker represents all African Americans, relating the many injustices they have faced and the spirit with which they have survived: ”You’ve lashed me and you’ve treed me / And you’ve everything but freed me / But in time you’ll know you need me and it won’t be long.” This passage was much quoted at the height of the civil rights movement, for it forcefully expresses the emotions of many African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s.
Impact in Public Schools
While teaching in Detroit, Madgett was appalled to discover that most African American children knew little about such African American poets as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, so in the summer of 1965, she taught an experimental course in African American literature—the first course on the subject ever offered in Detroit public schools. After spending 1965-1966 at Oakland University as a Mott Fellow, she returned to the classroom and began teaching the course as a regular part of the curriculum. Madgett’s energy and creativity were acknowledged in 1967 when she was honored by the Metropolitan Detroit English Club as the Distinguished English Teacher of the Year.
Poet and Publisher
In 1968, Madgett resigned from the Detroit public school system to accept a position as an associate professor of English at Eastern Michigan University. In 1973 she was promoted to full professor. After marrying Leonard Andrews and visiting Africa in 1972, she published another book of poetry, Pink Ladies in the Afternoon (1972). In 1974, Madgett and her husband took over the newly-founded Lotus Press, which has published numerous African American authors, including Madgett herself. Madgett retired from formal teaching at Eastern Michigan in 1984, thereby becoming a professor emeritus.
In 1988, Madgett published her seventh volume of poetry, Octavia and Other Poems, indicating a new direction in her work. The long title poem is based on Madgett’s family history, as is an appendix containing family pictures, biographies, and family tree. In 1993, Madgett was recognized by the Before Columbus Foundation with an American Book Award for her contributions as publisher and editor of Lotus Press. At the same time, she committed to a five-year assignment as poetry editor of the Michigan State University Press. The recipient of numerous awards through the years, Madgett continues to write; her autobiography, Pilgrim Journey, was published in 2006.
Works in Literary Context
Madgett’s poems are generally divided into two categories: the lyric poems of her youth and the later political works concerned with the civil rights movement. Many of Madgett’s early works are sentimental love poems that often use nature to reveal emotion. The primary influence upon the poet at this stage in her life was the Romantic tradition, either directly from John Keats and William Wordsworth or indirectly through Paul Laurence Dunbar and Countee Cullen. Later collections of poetry reveal Madgett’s deepening awareness of her power as a writer in the midst of civil disorder and the Vietnam War. Possibly her biggest influence in the writing community— certainly in regard to African American authors—has been her involvement with Lotus Press.
As Madgett matured, she left behind the youthful imitation of Romantic poetry that so characterizes Songs to a Phantom Nightingale and began experimenting with language and the crafting of poetry. As evidenced by the poems in Star by Star (1965), Madgett demonstrates a marked improvement in technique, with stronger images, tighter phrasing, and controlled, limited sentimentality. ”Beginning and End,” for example, opens with images reminiscent of Thoreau’s description of spring in Walden (1854) and then describes a metaphysical linking of life and death symbolized by worms.
In other poems, Madgett uses the short, clipped lines, the rhyme, and even the imagery of Emily Dickinson. The Star by Star collection also contains ”Trinity: A Dream Sequence,” a series of nineteen short poems. Spoken by a woman, these poems present the intense longing, secrecy, apparent consummation, adoration, guilt, and ending of an illicit romance. The paradoxical but effective use of religious imagery distinguishes ”Trinity” from Madgett’s simple, straightforward early love poems.
Works in Critical Context
Throughout her career, Madgett has published hundreds of poems that have been collected in seven volumes, reprinted in more than seventy anthologies, and translated into several languages. Nevertheless, her work has never been the subject of extended scholarly study. In part, this neglect is the result of her writing lyric poetry at a time when such poetry has been lightly regarded. Additionally, Madgett has tended to downplay her African American verse—placing her African American poems at the ends of several collections, for instance—despite the fact that much of the favorable attention she has received has come from African American critics, journals, and organizations. However, in Exits and Entrances (1978) and, most effectively, in Octavia and Other Poems (1988), Madgett has emphasized her African American heritage, which should result in wider recognition of her poems.
Exits and Entrances
A combination of autobiography, African American themes, and traditional lyric poetry, Exits and Entrances satisfied critics in much the same way as her previous collections. According to reviewer Melba Boyd, Exits and Entrances displays Madgett’s ”gentle and distinguished… creative genius.” Critic Ray Fleming observes ”some fine individual poems in the collection, poems with a wholeness of vision that uncovers the humor and complexity in human relationships.” He continues: ”The best of Madgett’s lyrics resonate with the vibrant, warm humanity of the poet and invite us, with an almost philosophic calm, to look honestly into ourselves.”
Although he finds much to praise about Exits and Entrances, Fleming also notes some troublesome elements in the collection, including ”a disconcerting vagueness about many of these poems that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to locate with precision the dominant idea or emotion that motivates them.” For instance, despite their ”beautiful haunting quality and tone,” “Muffle jaw” and ”Fantasia,” Fleming says, lack the unifying focus necessary for effective poetry.
- Arata, Esther Spring, and others. Black Writers Past and Present. New York: Morrow, 1975.
- Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Carlson,1993.
- Madgett, Naomi Long. Star by Star. Detroit.: Lotus Press, 1965.
- Reardon, Joan. Poetry by American Women, 1900-1975: A References::. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press,1979.
- Redmond, Eugene B. Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1976.
- Shelton, Pamela L., ed. Contemporary Women Poets. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997.
- Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Detroit: Gale, 1992.
- Boyd, Melba. ”Review of Exits and Entrances.” Black Scholar (March-April 1980): 7.
- Fleming, Ray. ”Review of Exits and Entrances.” Black American Literature Forum (Summer 1980): 91.
- Randall, Dudley. ”Review of Pink Ladies in the Afternoon. Black World (September 1974): 32.
- Redding, Saunders. ”Books Noted.” Negro Digest (September 1996): 51-52.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.