Paul Laurence Dunbar

June 27, 1872-Feb. 9, 1906

"We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties."

Excerpted from "We Wear the Mask"

Langston Hughes


Feb. 1, 1902-May 22, 1967

"What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore —
And then run?"

Excerpted from "Harlem"

Claude McKay


Sept. 15, 1889-May 22, 1948

"If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs"

Excerpted from "If We Must Die"

Ntozake Shange


"my papa thot he was puerto rican & we wda been
cept we waz just reglar niggahs wit hints of Spanish
so off i made it to this 36 hour marathon dance
con salsa con Ricardo"

Excerpted from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

Maya Angelou


"It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me."

Excerpted from "Phenomenal Woman"

Amiri Baraka


"When I die, the consciousness I carry I will to
black people. May they pick me apart and take the
Useful parts, the sweet meat of my feelings."

Excerpted from "leroy"

Elizabeth Alexander


"On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth"

Excerpted from "Autumn Passage"

Gwendolyn Brooks


June 7, 1917-Dec. 3, 2000

"We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight."

Excerpted from "We Real Cool"

Sonia Sanchez


"nothing will keep
us young you know
not young men or
women who spin
their youth on
cool playing sounds"

Excerpted from "Personal Letter No. 3"

Nikki Giovanni


"On a trip north I caught a cold and blew my nose
giving oil to the Arab world
I am so hip — even my errors are correct
I sailed east to reach west — and had to round off the
earth as I went
The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
across three continents"

Excerpted from "Ego Tripping"

Rita Dove


"Velvet fruit, exquisite square
I hold up to sniff
Between finger and thumb — "

Excerpted from "Chocolate"

Thomas Sayers Ellis


"When I awake I will be white, the color of law.
I will be new, clean, good; and as pure as snow.
I will remember 'being black' the way one
experiences deja vu, as shadow-memory-feeling.
Race will return to its original association with running
and winning, though I will never have to do either
(ever again) to prove myself Olympic, human or equal."

Excerpted from "Race Change Operation"

Lucille Clifton


June 27, 1936-Feb. 13, 2010

"these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips."

Excerpted from "homage to my hips"

June Jordan


July 9, 1936-June 14, 2002

"Outside the leaves flame usual in darkness
and the rain
falls cool and blessed on the holy flesh
the black men waiting on the corner for
a womanly mirage
I am amazed by peace"

Excerpted from "Poem for My Love"

Tupac Shakur


June 16, 1971-Sept. 13, 1996

"Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature's laws wrong it learned 2 walk
without having feet"

Excerpted from "The Rose That Grew From Concrete"

Patricia Smith


"Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips."

Excerpted from "Hip-Hop Ghazal"

John Murillo


"For me, the movie starts with a black man
Leaping into an orbit of badges, tiny moons

Catching the sheen of his perfect black afro."

Excerpted from "Enter the Dragon"