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Carolyn M. Rodgers

(1945—2010)


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(1945–2010), poet, short-fiction writer, literary critic, and lecturer.

A Chicago native, Carolyn Marie Rodgers was influenced artistically in young adulthood by Gwendolyn Brooks and by the Organization of Black African Culture, a writers' group concerned with articulating the black aesthetic. In the late 1960s, she emerged from the Black Arts movement in Chicago as one of the “revolutionary poets” who created a profoundly black poetry in terms of language, technique, and theme.

Her early poems, collected in Paper Soul (1968), 2 Love Raps (1969), and Songs of a Black Bird (1969), deal with her advocacy of African American cultural revolution and with the conflicts between militancy and the traditional African American life that nurtured her. Her identity as an African American female poet is also a prominent concern in these poems, particularly as she tries to reconcile complex relationships between mothers and daughters and men and women. Attempting to break away from the conventional forms, especially those considered appropriate for female poets, she uses a “hip” style that consists of free-verse form and street language, and that also features nonstandard structure, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. There is some feeling that her work has been underappreciated because of criticism by the revolutionary male poets whose dominant positions in the Black Arts movement gave credence to their public devaluation of her uncommon poetic style.

Rodgers's mature and more accomplished poetry appears in two later volumes, how i got ovah: New and Selected Poems (1975) and The Heart as Ever Green (1978). These poems deal with feminist issues, especially the act of defining self. Many are autobiographical, portraying a militant woman who has begun to question the revolution and her relationship to it, and who now embraces her mother and the church as the solid foundations in her life. The issue guiding the latter collection, expressed metaphorically in the title, is that the freedom to grow and create, particularly for the woman and poet of African descent, is a feasible reality. Her latest volumes of poetry include Translation (1980) and Eden and Other Poems (1983).

The same insight and searching analysis that distinguish her poetry are integral to Rodgers's short fiction and her literary criticism. She portrays in her short fiction the ordinary and overlooked people in everyday African American life and emphasizes the theme of survival. Many consider her critical essay “Black Poetry—Where It's At” (1969) to be the best essay on the work of the “new black poets.” In it, she aesthetically evaluates contemporary African American poetry and sets up preliminary criteria of appraisal.

Although her reputation rests on her militant poetry of the late 1960s, Rodgers continued to write, progressively moving from militant liberationist to religious believer. She held a bachelor's degree from Roosevelt University and a master's degree in English from the University of Chicago. She taught writing in colleges across the country, and continued to publish poetry in magazines and anthologies.

Bettye J. Parker-Smith, “Running Wild in Her Soul: The Poetry of Carolyn Rodgers,” in Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluatios, ed. Mari Evans, 1984, pp. 393–410.Jean Davis, “Carolyn M. Rodgers,” in DLB, vol. 41, Afro-American Poets since 1955, eds. Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis, 1985, pp. 287–295.

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Subjects: Literature.


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