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Naomi Long Madgett was born on this date in 1923. She was a Black teacher, writer, poet, and editor.
Naomi Cornelia Long was born in Norfolk, VA, the daughter of a Baptist minister. She spent her childhood in East Orange, N.J., and began writing early. "I do not recall any time in my life when I was not involved with poetry," she has said. In New Jersey, Madgett went to an integrated school plagued by racism. A turning point came in 1937 when her family moved to St. Louis, where she was a freshman in high school. A budding poet, she loved St. Louis and her new school; it was all Black and taught pride in the achievements of Black people.
She was encouraged to write. Madgett read white and black writers, from Aesop's fables and Robert T. Kerlin's anthology "Negro Poets and Their Poems" to Romantic and Victorian English poets such as John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Her first book of poetry, "Songs to a Phantom Nightingale," was published when she was 17, a few days after graduating from high school.
Madgett attended Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) in Ettrick, graduating in 1945 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She married, moved to Detroit, worked for the Michigan Chronicle, and gave birth to a daughter, Jill, in 1947.
She also became a teacher in the Detroit public schools and, under her married name Naomi Long Madgett, began to make a name for herself as a poet and a teacher. In the 1960s, she taught the first Black literary course in Detroit public schools. In 1968, she became a teacher in creative writing and Black literature at Eastern Michigan University until she retired in 1984. During those years (the 1970s), Madgett took over Lotus Press, turning it into a leading poetry publisher by blacks, including Dudley Randall, Gayl Jones, Ray Fleming, and Paulette White. Lotus has published over 75 titles and is credited with giving voice to a generation of Black poets.
Some of her works include: "Sarah Street" (St. Louis), "A Negro In New York," "Fifth Street Exit: Richmond," "We were grown before we guessed/the wonder that those summers meant," "Midway," from the 1956 collection "One and the Many," "Mighty mountains loom before me, “I won't stop now." Madgett's work, whether as a teacher, writer, or editor, balances a love of self-expression with a powerful social conscience. In 2015 her Lotus Press merged with Dudley Randall's Broadside Press to form Broadside Lotus Press.
Her last poetry collection, You Are My Joy and Pain: Love Poems, was published in the Fall of 2020. Naomi Madgett died on November 5, 2020, at her home in West Bloomfield, Michigan, aged 97.
Richmond Times Dispatch,
by Clarke Crutchfield,
300 E. Franklin Street,
Richmond, VA 23219
Image: Lotus Press