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Thu, 07.05.1923

Naomi Madgett, a messenger of verse

Naomi Madgett

Naomi Long Madgett was born on this date in 1923. She is an African American teacher, writer, poet, and editor.

She was born Naomi Cornelia Long in Norfolk, VA, the daughter of a Baptist minister. She spent her childhood in East Orange, N.J., and began writing at an early age. "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 both 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 of 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 the 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 publisher of poetry by Blacks including Dudley Randall, Gayl Jones, Ray Fleming, and Paulette White. Lotus has published more than 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.

Richmond Times dispatch,
by Clarke Crutchfield,
300 E. Franklin Street,
Richmond, VA 23219

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Image: Lotus Press

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