Aqua Laluah is the pen name of Gladys May Casely-Hayford, an American national born in Axim, Gold Coast (now Ghana), West Africa. Her father was a politician and lawyer, her mother a teacher. Casely-Hanford was educated in Sierra Leone and in Wales. In the 1920s she danced with a jazz band in Germany; she also began publishing poems in journals like Opportunity, Atlantic Monthly, and Philadelphia Tribune under her pseudonym. Her one collection is Take 'um so (1948). She died of black water fever in 1950.
Lucille Clifton was born Thelma Louise Sayles in Depew, New York, where her mother worked in a laundry and her father in a steel mill. She attended Howard University and Fredonia State Teachers College, though she left before finishing a degree to devote herself to her writing.
Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, Arna Bontemps grew up in California and was educated at Pacific Union College. His father was a bricklayer and his mother a teacher. After college he moved to Harlem to teach at the Seventh Day Adventist academy, arriving at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry began to win awards, but the Adventists reassigned him to Oakwood Junior College in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1931. Although he was in conflict with conservative school officials, the experience of the South helped inspire some of his best work.
Born in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Jayne Cortez grew up in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles, but spent most of her adult life in the New York City area. Her first books combine politics, music, and surrealism, but the musical and performative elements increased during her marriage to jazz musician Ornette Coleman and after her directorship (1964-1970) of the Watts Repertory Theatre Company in Los Angeles. Her band, "The Firespitters," accompanied her performances and powerful poetry recordings, which sometimes made use of an almost mesmerizing chanting style.
Born Alice Ruth Moore, in New Orleans, of mixed African American, Native American, and European ancestry, Dunbar-Nelson was educated at Straight College (now Dillard University). Her Cornell master’s thesis on the influence of Milton on Wordsworth was cited at the time. A 1998-1902 marriage to poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and a later marriage to civil rights activist Robert J. Nelson are the source of her hyphenated name. She is known not only for her poetry but also for her short stories and posthumously published diary.
Countee Cullen was probably born in Louisville, Kentucky, though Cullen himself later liked to claim New York as his birthplace. In any case, he was at some point informally adopted by the Reverend A. and Carolyn Belle Cullen; prior to that he used the name Countee Porter. The Reverend was not only a minister but also a black activist in Harlem. Cullen himself absorbed the activism but realized his literary inclinations and homosexuality—see the simultaneously racial and sexual transgression of "Tableau"—would take him in different directions.
Henry Dumas was born in Sweet Home, Arkansas, where he spent the first ten years of his life. It was long enough to absorb gospel music and the folk traditions of the South. At that point, he moved to Harlem, where he lived until joining the Air Force, a stint that included a year in the Middle East. All these experiences found a place in his poetry; "Son of Msippi" recalls his years in the South, while "Knees of a Natural Man" evokes the urban world of New York. He had spent some time at City College and at Rutgers, but never completed a degree.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Rita Dove was educated at Miami University in Ohio, the University of Tübingen in Germany, and the University of Iowa. She teaches at the University of Virginia. History and myth are frequent subjects. A book-length poem sequence, Thomas and Beulah (1986), presents her maternal grandparents' family history in the broad context of African American migration north after reconstruction. Mother Love (1995) is a contemporary retelling of the story of Demeter and Persephone.
Born Florence Anthony in Albany, Texas, Ai did not learn her real father's identity until she was sixteen. Then she learned she had a Japanese American father; her mother was black, Irish, and Choctaw Indian. She took the name "Ai," which means "love" in Japanese, to signal her heritage. Ai's childhood was spent in a variety of cities, including Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. She was educated at the University of Arizona and the University of California at Irvine.