Naomi Long Madgett

(b. 1923)

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(b. 1923), teacher, poet, publisher, and editor;

born Naomi Cornelia Long. In “He Lives in Me,” a poem in Adam of Ifé (1992) honoring her father, Clarence Marcellus Long, Sr., Naomi Long Madgett states the principles that underlie her own achievements: faith, integrity, and personal and social responsibility. As a child, she had free access to his book-lined study, discovering early her love of poetry. When she was fifteen, her first collection, Songs to a Phantom Nightingale (1941), was accepted for publication, though two years had elapsed before it appeared. Two editions, containing additional early poems, have been issued: Phantom Nightingale, Juvenilia (1981) and Remembrances of Spring: Early Collected Poems (1993). The second of these also includes her second collection, One and the Many (1956).

Between her first two collections, Madgett completed a BA (Virginia State University, 1945), married, settled in Detroit, Michigan, worked briefly for the Michigan Chronicle, and gave birth to a daughter, Jill (who is also a publishing poet under the name Jill Witherspoon Boyer). The marriage ended in 1948, and Madgett worked for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company until 1954.

In 1955, she completed an MEd degree in English at Wayne State University and began her teaching career, first as a secondary-school teacher in the Detroit public schools (1955–1968), then at Eastern Michigan University (1968–1984). From the beginning of her teaching career, she has championed textbook reform to provide fairer representation to African American authors. She perceives her contribution to the teaching of this literature and of creative writing as her most influential work, her writing as her most personally satisfying.

In the early 1960s, encouraged by Rosey E. Pool, a Dutch scholar interested in African American poets, a group of poets began to meet for informal discussion and workshops. Dudley Randall, Oliver LaGrone, James W. Thompson, Harold Lawrence, Edward Simpkins, Alma Parks, Betty Ford, Gloria Davis, and Madgett formed the nucleus of the group, which met at Boone House, the home of Margaret Esse Danner, poet in residence at Wayne State University from 1962 to 1964. A later group included LaGrone, Randall, Davis, Madgett, Joyce Whitsitt, and several white poets. Ten: Anthology of Detroit Poets (1968) grew from this association.

Madgett's third collection, Star By Star (1965; rpt. 1970, 1972), includes poems from this period. In 1972, she, three friends, and her third husband, Leonard Patton Andrews, established the Lotus Press to publish her fourth book, Pink Ladies in the Afternoon (1972). The press, which Madgett and Andrews took over in 1974, has published well-received books for more than twenty years. Its major contribution has been to bring attention to African American poets. Although many of these have been young women, the press has also published established poets such as May Miller, notably, her Collected Poems (1989). In 1993, having published seventy-six titles, Madgett turned over distribution to the Michigan State University Press, which established the Lotus Press Series and named Madgett its senior editor. In the same year, the Before Columbus Foundation presented her with its American Book Award as publisher-editor.


Subjects: Literature.

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