Poet Carolyn Rodgers Dies at 69

Rodgers was a force in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

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Carolyn Rodgers, a leading force in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s has passed away.

Carolyn Rodgers, a leading poet of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s whose work wove strands of feminism, black power, spirituality and writerly self-consciousness into a sometimes raging, sometimes ruminative search for identity, died on April 2 in Chicago. She was 69.

The cause was cancer, said her sister Nina R. Gordon.

A student of Gwendolyn Brooks and a contemporary of Nikki Giovanni, Ms. Rodgers first came to prominence with poems that were strident, militant and experimental — free-verse declarations of collective black anger and a black woman’s selfhood, written in street language replete with profanities and vernacular spellings.

The poems reflected the philosophy of the Black Arts Movement, begun in the mid-’60s by Amiri Baraka, Ms. Brooks and others as the aesthetic complement to the political black power movement. But from the beginning her work was infused with a sense of the poet as a unique individual with singular passions.

Dark-skinned and statuesque, Ms. Rodgers was a dynamic reader of her own poems and a commanding figure at the coffeehouse gatherings that fueled the Black Arts Movement in Chicago. She was also an influential theoretician who spoke and wrote about the black aesthetic in poetry.

“What made her important was her unique use of language and her descriptions of our community,” said Haki Madhubuti, a poet and the founder of Third World Press, which published two early books by Ms. Rodgers, “Paper Soul” and “Songs of a Blackbird.” “When she read, people would sit up and take notice. Men gravitated toward her like she was a Corvette.”