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Boyd, Melba

(b. 1950)


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(b. 1950), poet, educator, editor, essayist, and biographer.

Melba Joyce Boyd was born on 2 April 1950 to John Percy Boyd and Dorothy Winn, since divorced, in Detroit, Michigan. She is married with two children. Boyd received her BA in English from Wayne State University in 1971 and an MA in English from the same institution in 1972. She served as a teacher at Cass Technical High School (1972–1973), an instructor at Wayne County Community College (1972–1982), and assistant editor of the Broadside (1972–1977; 1980–1982). In 1979, Boyd received her doctorate in English from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She taught at the University of Iowa (1982–1988) and Ohio State University (1988–1989) before becoming the director of Afro-American Studies at the University of Michigan at Flint in 1989. She is currently on the faculty at Wayne State University. Among other awards, she received a Faculty Research Grant from the University of Michigan in 1990 and was Senior Fulbright Lecturer in Germany (1982–1983).

Boyd began publishing poetry after graduating from college. Her earliest work appeared in The Broadside Annual and African American periodicals such as the Black Scholar and First World, and explored the intersection of personal and African American political experience. In 1978 Boyd's first volume of poetry, Cat Eyes and Dead Wood, was published with accompanying illustrations by Michele G Russell. Later volumes, such as [thirteen frozen flamingoes] (1988) and Song for Maya (1989), also incorporate illustrations. After 1983 Boyd drew on her German experience to write poetry. Song for Maya and thirteen frozen flamingoes are both published by German presses. The former is written in both German and English, with English on one side of the page and German on the other, while the latter includes occasional German phrases. Boyd has been anthologized in two collections of African American literature, Black Sister: Poetry by Black American Women, 1746–1980 (1981) and Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature (1979). The poet's essay on her poem Song for Maya, an exploration of the difficulties being multiracial poses for individuals and for American society, appears in Missions in Conflict: Essays on U.S.-Mexican Relations and Chicano Culture, edited by Renate von Bardeleben (1986). Her biography of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E. W. Harper, was published by Wayne State University Press in 1994.

Stylistically, Boyd's poetry has remained consistent. Her earliest published work, such as “silver lace (for herb)” (1978), introduces her characteristic short, powerful lines, concern with individual words, and manipulation of punctuation to create form and meaning. Boyd uses the language and imagery of contemporary culture, creating startling, Sextonesque phrases such as “cultural insurancemen,” and often evokes female sexuality through sensory moments. Less frequently she draws on musical patterns and rhyme: “save the bones/for willie jones,” for example, or the sibilance of “bussstop.” While still concerned with the personal and political issues of race, class, and gender, Boyd's work has gradually become less dependent on the poet's individual experience to communicate meaning and more concerned with others' experience.

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Subjects: Literature.


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