Born Everett Leroy Jones to a middle-class family in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a postal employee and social worker, Amiri Baraka was educated at Rutgers, Howard, and Columbia universities. His work and his system of beliefs have gone through several distinct phases. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he was active among Beat writers on New York's Lower East Side, writing his own poetry and plays and editing two period magazines, Yugen and Floating Bear.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Portland, Oregon, where her father was a restaurant owner, Marilyn (Mei Ling) Chin was educated at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop. She now teaches at San Diego State University. In addition to her own poems, she has done translations, edited Writing from the World (1985), and was featured on the 1995 television series The Language of Life, broadcast on educational television.
Berryman was born John Smith in McAlester, Oklahoma. At age twelve, after his family had moved to Florida, Berryman's father shot himself to death outside his son's window. His surname comes from his mother's second marriage, after the family moved to New York. Berryman was educated at Columbia and Cambridge Universities and himself became an influential teacher at Harvard, Princeton, and Minnesota. But he struggled with alcoholism and madness throughout his life. In the end, he leapt to his death from a bridge in Minneapolis.
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Bishop's childhood was structured around a sequence of tragedies. Her father died when she was less than one year old. Her mother endured a series of emotional breakdowns and was permanently institutionalized when Bishop was five years old; they never saw each other again. At that point, she was living in Nova Scotia, but after a few years her grandparents returned with her to Worcester. Then she lived with an aunt, meanwhile suffering from asthma and other illnesses.
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas. Her mother was a schoolteacher, her father a janitor. The family moved to Chicago almost immediately, and there Brooks spent most of her life. She attended Wilson Junior College in the mid-1930s, meanwhile meeting and being encouraged by James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. She also wrote a poetry column for the Chicago Defender.
Sterling A. Brown was born and raised in the strictly segregated Washington, D.C., of the first decades of the century. His family was middle class (his father was a professor of religion), and he was educated at Williams College and Harvard. There he read the new American poetry of early modernism and was struck especially by the use of the vernacular in Frost, Sandburg, and others. To this he would add knowledge of black folk traditions sought out in the southern countryside during several college teaching jobs in the 1920s.
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.
William Bronk spent all his life in upstate New York in the small town of Hudson Falls; he lived in the family home, a Victorian house, and managed the business, a retail fuel and building supply firm that he inherited from his father, from 1945 until the mid-1970s. Bronk was born nearby in Fort Edward and educated at Dartmouth. He served as an army historian during World War II and wrote A History of the Eastern Defense Command and of the Defense of the Atlantic Coast of the United States in the Second World War (1945).
Born in Chicago to working-class parents—her father was an upholsterer, her mother a factory worker—Cisneros spent her early years shuttling between the United States and her father's family home in Mexico City. After studying at the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, she settled in Texas in a house on the San Antonio River, though she has also been a writer in residence at the University of Michigan and the University of California at Irvine. Her published work includes not only poetry but also experimental collections of fiction and sketches.
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.