Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
By Camille T. Dungy (Editor)
University of Georgia Press, Paperback, 9780820334318, 387pp.
Publication Date: December 1, 2009
"Black Nature" is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated.
Black poets have a long tradition of incorporating treatments of the natural world into their work, but it is often read as political, historical, or protest poetry--anything but nature poetry. This is particularly true when the definition of what constitutes nature writing is limited to work about the pastoral or the wild.
Camille T. Dungy has selected 180 poems from 93 poets that provide unique perspectives on American social and literary history to broaden our concept of nature poetry and African American poetics. This collection features major writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Wanda Coleman, Natasha Trethewey, and Melvin B. Tolson as well as newer talents such as Douglas Kearney, Major Jackson, and Janice Harrington. Included are poets writing out of slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century African American poetic movements.
"Black Nature" brings to the fore a neglected and vital means of considering poetry by African Americans and nature-related poetry as a whole.
A Friends Fund Publication.
"Dungy has compiled what might have taken a lifetime to assemble, yet here it is at this moment when our culture is assessing both its relationship to the natural world and its relationship with its black citizens. The timing could not be better for such a comprehensive look at what black poets have contributed to our understanding of nature. What excites about this anthology is that it is not only the richest and most comprehensive collection of poems by black poets I have read, it is the richest and most comprehensive collection of poems about nature that I have read. I believe the book should be widely read, taught, and talked about."--Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Rope
"Black Nature is the most exciting anthology of poetry I've read in years. In part this reflects the superb quality and remarkable range of Camille Dungy's selections. But it also comes from her decision to organize the book's contents into ten thematic "cycles" rather than chronologically. Each of the sections responds distinctively and dramatically to Lucille Clifton's question with which Dungy frames the entire volume: "why/is there under that poem always/ an other poem?" This collection will quickly become essential reading for poets and scholars, as well as for courses on American poetry and the literature of nature."--John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home
"Camille Dungy’s anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, offers a fresh new vision of the African American poetic canon. In eliciting black poems that redefine the Western tradition of nature poetry, she has provided a new configuration for African American poetry, one that is postmodern and neo-pastoralist. Black Nature expands the horizon of black poetry from the frequently anthologized themes of blues, social commentary, and urban pastoral and demonstrates that black is also green, a theme consonant with the twenty-first century. Publishing many young poets writing since the post Black Arts Movement, Dungy’s Black Nature achieves a contemporary emphasis. It is ideal for introductory and advanced African American literature courses."--Robert Chrisman, Editor-in-Chief, The Black Scholar
"With extraordinary insight and substantial creative vision the rich synthesis of this anthology offers a strikingly original contour to the seasons of black poets and poetry. The critical wisdom accumulated here is as important as the beautifully structured cycles that Dungy uses as landscaped categories to contain these important poems. The methodology here is as graceful as it is rigorously intelligent. Dungy's anthology is a major contribution to twenty-first century Black Studies."--Karla FC Holloway, author of BookMarks: Reading in Black and White—A Memoir
"Just as nature is too often defined as wilderness when, in fact, nature is everywhere we are, our nature poetry is too often defined by Anglo-American perspectives, even though poets of all backgrounds write about the living world...Dungy enlarges our understanding of the nexus between nature and culture, and introduces a 'new way of thinking about nature writing and writing by black Americans.'"—Booklist (starred review)
"No pleasures are more aesthetic than poetry and nature, so it is only natural that the two should unite. Editor Dungy here merges the worlds in a satisfying compilation that features over 100 poems by 93 African American poets, including celebrated writers June Jordan and Yusef Komunyakaa as well as newer artists like Remica L. Bingham and Indigo Moor."—Library Journal
"Camille Dungy believes that white and black poets look differently at nature, with whites primarily noticing its beauty and blacks seeing its harshness. The view, Dungy says, is intensified by the black experience of slavery. An edgy mix of pastoral and political, her anthology, Black Nature, testifies to her point."—Baltimore Sun
"One of the few anthologies that can be picked up and read like a novel cover to cover without metaphor overload. Black Nature is well thought out, well edited, and timed."—Phati'tude Literary Magazine
The anthology of African-American nature poetry features work by contemporary writers, and writers like 18th century poet Phillis Wheatley. Camille T. Dungy, the editor of the collection, says the poems offer a different view of the natural world. More at NPR.org
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