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Read Their Words. Hear Them Speak. (


How do we — the artists, the writers, the ones who are so used to squaring off with the worst of ourselves, our world, our humanity — find a language suitable for our current state of disaster, which is almost biblical in its force and Shakespearean in its unfolding?

The 10 young Black writers in this project — talented poets from Oakland, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Nashville, New Orleans and Los Angeles — are using the tools at their disposal, whatever they have. There’s the “Black vernacular” of Akilah Toney’s poem, the unshakable end rhymes of Alora Young, the expansive lines of Nyarae Francis’s sestina and the stunning yet harrowing fragments of Samuel Getachew’s “justice for -.”

These fledgling June Jordans and Robert Haydens, who are youth poets laureate and organizers and rappers, examine and fight back against an America that threatens to swallow them. They redefine themselves (“I wish I understood what it is like to be a black girl / To know myself like a dictionary definition,” begins Madison Petaway in her poem) and cite their own wisdom and traditions, even building their own gods (“I’ve come to learn that my Grandmother’s God is not my own,” Jacoby Collins writes).

“The smoke in Oakland has hands” Leila Mottley writes, painting a landscape populated with sneering men, preying streets, smoke and ash. It’s true: Our world is on fire, but these writers are courageous, fearless.

To read Maya Phillips' article, and view the videos of the young Black writers,  please click here.

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