Doris Davenport

(b. 1949)

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Zora Neale Hurston (1891—1960)

Langston Hughes (1902—1967) American writer

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Nikki Giovanni (b. 1943)

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(b. 1949), performance poet, writer, educator, and Georgia Council for the Arts/Individual Artist Award recipient.

Born in Gainesville, Georgia, Doris Davenport was the oldest of seven children of working-class parents. The poetry Davenport writes is honest, unapologetic, satirical, and almost always woman-centered. Refusing to be restricted by a singular definition, Davenport embraces multiple identities and refers to herself as an Appalachian, southern, African American, lesbian-feminist, two-headed woman, daughter of Chango and Oya (gods from the west African Yoruba pantheon religion). As Davenport says, “Poetry has a function like air; it is necessary.”

Exposing ills inherent in our society and ridiculing contradictions is Davenport's agenda, the thread that runs through her poetry. Influenced primarily by the African American communities in northeast Georgia, Davenport counts as her literary mentors Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Nikki Giovanni. Her first two poetry collections, It's Like This (1980) and Eat Thunder & Drink Rain (1983) are very personal and mostly explore relationships.

In It's Like This, davenport establishes her feminist focus in the poem “Vision I: Genesis for Wimmin of Color.” She examines the U.S. social-racial landscape that attempts to obliterate African American women. As an insurgent poet, Davenport makes readers see that which is often overlooked. She knows African American “wimmin's” reality is much more than the popular stereotype.

In Eat Thunder & Drink Rain, no one is exempt from Davenport's critical eye. The poems have as themes love and breaking up, as in “I Despise Mushy Sentimental Lovesick Lesbian Poetry Worse Than I Do Backgammon But (for SM),” to “All The Way Live,” and “Isa Said,” which are reminiscent of Langston Hughes's blues poems. Many of the poems explore lesbian relationships, but even here Davenport challenges the fallacies, as in “Dogmatic Dykes.” This poem deftly engages lesbians who don traditional patriarchal roles. As with other poems, Davenport doesn’t merely condemn, she asks questions, such as “when will the real wimmin / appear?” forcing accusers and readers to move ahead.

An iconoclastic visionary, Doris Davenport celebrates the oral tradition. Her words leap off the page and caress or grate the reader's ear. Her use of African American vernacular recalls Ntozake Shange's poetry, but hers is a friendlier voice, southern, slow-paced, intimate. This quality is most striking in “Miz Anna—On Death” from Voodoo Chile (1991).

Her work recalls Audre Lorde, the African American lesbian poet. Although Lorde's cerebral, interior style differs from Davenport's, they share a philosophical outlook: the intersection of personal and political voices. The poem “interlude” from Davenport's latest volume aptly encapsulates her poetic intent and situates her firmly among the griots of our time. This succinct poem has an urgent tone that engages readers indialogue. Her poetic is clearly informed by call and response, a motif still evident in African American churches, theater, and music traditions.

Voodoo Chile and Chango's Daughter, an autobiography in progress, connect Davenport to her African religious roots, which have been distorted in this society. Similar to the revolutionary stance of the 1960s, when African Americans claimed the word “black” to identify themselves and reinvested it with positive attributes, Davenport restores African American ethos to a place of honor by claiming voodoo and Chango.


Subjects: Literature.

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