In today’s Thoughtful Thursday we feature two African-American poets who passed away in 2018 but left us with their wonderful words and works.

Baltimore native Sam Cornish, born in 1935, was educated at Goddard College and Northwestern University. He is the author of several works of poetry including Dead Beats (2011), An Apron Full of Beans: New and Selected Poems (2008), along with several poetry anthologies and children’s books. He was the inaugural poet laureate of the city of Boston, serving from 2008 – 2014.  In “Spring 1931” Cornish gives us a vivid portrait of a blues singer on the road.

The renowned poet, playwright and novelist Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams in 1948. She attended Barnard College and the University of Southern California, earning both a BA and MA in American Studies. While studying at USC she took the name “Ntozake” (“she who comes into her own things”) “Shange” (“she who walks like a lion”) from the Zulu dialect Xhosa.

Shange was probably most well known for her 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which won an Obie Award and received Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award nominations.  This seminal work, which blended poetry, music, dance and drama, was performed by an ensemble of seven African American women. In 2010, Tyler Perry adapted it into a feature-length film.

The work presented below, “My Father Is a Retired Magician”, which was included in her 1978 book of poetry, “Nappy Edges”, is a humorous take on the makings of Black pride.

Shange was known for her use of lower case letters and creative spelling in her work. She discussed this approach in Claudia Tate’s book, “Black Women Writers at Work”, noting “I like the idea that letters dance. . . . I need some visual stimulation, so that reading becomes not just a passive act and more than an intellectual activity, but demands rigorous participation”.

What a great concept, to strive to rigorously participate in the act of reading! We should share this challenge, these poems and the stories of these poets with our children. Enjoy.


Spring 1931

Northern black
boy traveling
with empty belly;
these are the American
shanties, and fine
big houses, a sad
on a poor man’s tongue
land of cotton and trouble
night sweet as dusk
on its gentle people
until today,
was just a place
where the train
had to stop
and the Southern
was beautiful
I traveled
from Memphis to Georgia
drinking my whiskey
singing my blues

Sam Cornish (1935-2018)



My Father Is a Retired Magician

(for ifa, p.t., & bisa)

my father is a retired magician
which accounts for my irregular behavior
everythin comes outta magic hats
or bottles wit no bottoms & parakeets
are as easy to get as a couple a rabbits
or 3 fifty cent pieces/ 1958

my daddy retired from magic & took
up another trade cuz this friend of mine
from the 3rd grade asked to be made white 
on the spot

what cd any self-respectin colored american magician
do wit such a outlandish request/ cept
put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah
thingamajigs away cuz
colored chirren believin in magic
waz becomin politically dangerous for the race
& waznt nobody gonna be made white
on the spot just
from a clap of my daddy’s hands

& the reason i’m so peculiar’s 
cuz i been studyin up on my daddy’s technique
& everythin i do is magic these days
& it’s very colored
very now you see it/ now you
dont mess wit me
i come from a family of retired
sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers
wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies 
on our side
i’ll listen to yr problems
help wit yr career yr lover yr wanderin spouse
make yr grandma’s stay in heaven more gratifyin
ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son
how to clean his room

YES YES YES 3 wishes is all you get
scarlet ribbons for yr hair
benwa balls via hong kong
a miniature of machu picchu

all things are possible
but aint no colored magician in her right mind
gonna make you white
i mean
this is blk magic
you lookin at
& i’m fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored
& you gonna be colored all yr life
& you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored & love it
love it/ bein colored/

Spell #7 from Upnorth-Outwest Geechee Jibara Quik Magic Trance Manual for Technologically Stressed Third World People 

Ntozake Shange (1948-2018)

From Nappy Edges by Ntozake Shange Copyright 1972 by Ntozake Shange. All rights reserved.