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Review

This 2-CD audio collection of Black writers reading from their work was both a joy and education for me. The compilation covers over a century of writing, ranging from the late nineteenth century scholar W.E.B. DuBois to contemporary twenty-first spoken word poets Saul Williams and Tracie Morris. Most of the writers are African-American, but several African and Caribbean writers are included as well.  By including such a broad swath of Black writing, it gives a great sense of the breadth, diversity, and development of English language poetry by writers of African descent over the past 100+ years.

The audio format made this a special treat. It allowed me to finally hear the voices and rhythms of some of these writers whose printed work I first read decades ago. Listening to it, I could also hear the many connections between African-American poetry and musical traditions. Sonia Sanchez’s blues line repetitions, Amiri Baraka’s jazz scats, and Gil Scott-Heron’s musical-verbal interplay in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” all demonstrated how integral music has remained to African-American writing, and how much it has enriched it.

The collection also includes a booklet that provides a historical overview of Black writing in the U.S., beginning with Phyllis Wheatley, who lived in the 1700s and was one of the first published African-American authors. This provides further context for each of the pieces and writers. It also lists sources for these pieces and recommends further reading.

There were a few drawbacks to the collection – the pieces included by some of my favorite writers, Sonia Sanchez and Lucille Clifton, were far from their strongest or most interesting work. It also would have been helpful to have the CDs announce each author’s name before they read, so I didn’t have to refer to case every few poems to see who was reading. One or two author’s voices were grating. But these were small prices to pay to enjoy aurally such a great, diverse collection of Black writers’ work.

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