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Sun, 04.19.1931

Etheridge Knight, Poet born

Etheridge Knight

On this date we remember the birth of Etheridge Knight in 1931. He was an Black poet.

Knight was born in Corinth, Mississippi and grew up in Paducah, Kentucky. He dropped out of high school, became addicted to drugs, and joined the U.S. Army, serving as a medical technician in the Korean War.  Arrested for robbery in 1960, Knight was imprisoned for eight years. There he emerged as a strong voice of the Black aesthetic movement with his first volume of verse, Poems from Prison (1968).

His experience was also recounted with prose in the anthology Black Voices from Prison (1970); originally published two years earlier in Italian as Voce negre dal carcere.  After his release from prison, Knight taught at various universities and contributed to several magazines, working for two years as an editor of Motive and as a contributing editor of New Letters (1974).   He experimented with rhythmic forms of punctuation in Belly Song and Other Poems (1973), which addressed the themes of ancestry, racism, and love. In Born of a Woman (1980), a work that weighs personal suffering with affirmation, he introduced the concept of the poet as a "meddler" who forms a trinity with the poem and the reader.

Much of his verse was collected in The Essential Etheridge Knight (1986). His poetry combined the energy and audacity of African American "toasts" (long verses that were recited in a mixture of street slang, specialized argot, and obscenities) with a concern for freedom from oppression. He died March 10, 1991 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

American Negro Poetry
An Anthology edited by Arna Bontemps
Copyright 1974, revised edition. Hill and Wang, New York
ISBN 0-8090-2521-3

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