Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters Today with Kevin Young, Amanda Gorman, Kris Bowers, Robin Coste Lewis, Safiya Sinclair

As part of Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles joins the nationwide celebration of 250 years of African American poetry, on the occasion of the release of Kevin Young’s anthology. This program will include a special reading of these poems that address questions of identity, race, place, voice and the richness and diversity of African American poetic imagination.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song is the centerpiece of Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters. Across a turbulent history, from such vital centers as Harlem, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, Black poets created a rich and multifaceted tradition that has been both a reckoning with American realities and an imaginative response to them. Capturing the power and beauty of this diverse tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry reveals as never before its centrality and its challenge to American poetry and culture.

Kevin Young is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and poetry editor of The New Yorker. Formerly the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Young was recently named a National Historic Landmark. He is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, most recently Brown (Knopf, 2018) as featured on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; and Bunk (Graywolf, 2017), which won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Nonfiction, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and named a New York Times Notable Book. He is the editor of nine other volumes, including the Library of America anthology African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song (2020). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was named a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020.

Amanda Gorman, heralded as “the next great figure in American poetry,” is the youngest inaugural poet and first ever National Youth Poet Laureate in the United States. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she is a Harvard graduate and has performed at the Obama White House, Library of Congress, Lincoln Center, and more. A published and award-winning poet, Gorman has two forthcoming books with Viking and currently writes for the NYT’s “The Edit” newsletter. She is a board member of 826 National and, most recently, collaborated with Prada’s latest sustainability project and Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign.

Kris Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots with inflections of alternative and R&B influences. Bowers’ work as a film and television composer is a testament to his versatility as an artist. Bowers has established himself at the forefront of Hollywood’s emerging generation of composers, and throughout his career, he has consistently championed an art practice guided by multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Robin Coste Lewis is the poet laureate of Los Angeles and writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California. Her poetry debut, Voyage of the Sable Venus (Knopf, 2015) was honored with the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry—the first poetry debut to do so since 1975, and the first debut to win in poetry by an African American. Lewis has published her work widely in various journals and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The New York Times, among others. Currently, she is a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Southern California. Born in Compton, California, her family is from New Orleans.

Safiya Sinclair is an award-winning poet and author of Cannibal. Born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Sinclair’s poems are deeply engaged with womanhood, with exile (exile from the homeland, from the prevailing culture, from one’s own body) and with reclaiming a place in the world. Her forthcoming memoir, How to Say Babylon, will be published by Simon & Schuster. She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.