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Key Facts

  • Format: Indexing, SGML Text
  • Media: Electronic/Online, CD-ROM
  • Coverage Dates: 1760-1900
  • Sources Covered: 3,000 poems
  • MARC Records: Yes

Intended For


This database is an invaluable resource for not only literary scholars but also researchers in black studies, linguistics, women's studies, the black literary heritage, and comparative studies.

African American Poetry contains nearly 3,000 poems by African American poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It provides a comprehensive survey of the early history of African American poetry, from the earliest published African American poems to the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American poet to achieve national success and recognition.

The authors and works included in the collection show the huge variety of this relatively unexplored area of American literary history: coverage includes writers from both North and South, from rural and urban backgrounds, and ranges from University-educated professionals to those for whom the very acts of reading and writing constituted a defiance of Southern slave laws. Generically, poems range from ballads, broadsides and humorous verse to Romantic odes, sonnets and historical epics.

Important authors include:

  • Lucy Terry Prince (1730–1821), an African-born slave whose one surviving ballad, 'Bars Fight'', is the first known poem by an African American. It describes an Indian raid on Massachusetts settlers in 1746, and was not published until 1855.
  • Phillis Wheatley (1753?–1784), who was abducted from West Africa and sold as a slave in Boston, and went on to become one of the major American poets of the Colonial period. Wheatley showed prodigious intelligence as a young woman, and her volume Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) made her only the second American woman to publish a volume of poetry.
  • Jupiter Hammon (1711–1800?), whose poems, such as 'The Kind Master and Dutiful Servant', advocated Christian piety and loyal servitude.
  • George Moses Horton (1797?–1883?), author of The Hope of Liberty (1829), the first book published in the South by an African American; his works show a new candour and defiance in their depiction of the indignities and outrages of slavery.
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1824–1911), a free woman from Baltimore who campaigned for the abolition of slavery and for women's rights. Her powerful descriptions of the experience of slavery include 'Bury Me in a Free Land', 'The Slave Auction', and 'The Slave Mother, a Tale of the Ohio', which is based on the same real-life events as Toni Morrison's novel Beloved.
  • James Monroe Whitfield (1822–1871), a regular contributor to abolitionist journals, whose ironic and accusatory poems such as 'The Misanthropist' and 'America' anticipate the Black nationalism of later generations.
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