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Why this poet says there is no ‘single story spun on a single tongue’

Erica Dawson, a professor and writer, said she was surprised while on book tour recently to be faced with the same question over and over again, about speaking for “the black experience.” Black poets "never went away. We don’t only deserve the stage in tumultuous times. We aren’t just rage," says Dawson, who shares her humble opinion on recognizing individual voices.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In our national conversations on politics, race or even entertainment, we often group people together.

    But when we use shorthand, like African-American voters, we often overlook the diverse viewpoints of any given demographic.

    Erica Dawson is a poet and professor. And, in her Humble Opinion, it's time to recognize the individual, not just the group.

  • Erica Dawson:

    Last fall, I was incredibly fortunate to travel all over the country to promote my new book, "When Rap Spoke Straight to God."

    I know I love few things more than meeting new people, but I was surprised when, almost after every reading, I was met with the same question again and again. It struck me. So I did what poets do. I wrote a poem to try to understand.

    So I did this reading the other day, right? After, in the Q&A, somebody raised their hand and asked, what is it like for you to be tasked with the job of speaking for the black experience?

    As if there's only one. Like, somewhere, there's a single stack of words or a single story spun on a single tongue. The other night, somebody asked, is black poetry back? Like, we penned one verse, and it got lost at sea or slipped inside a big old crack in the big old earth, and then re-returned when everything was chaos.

    Like, here we are. Like, oh, hey, it's us, and we're feeling concerned and all political.

    We never went away. We don't only deserve the stage in tumultuous times. We aren't just rage. We're not a fad, a torch, a blaze of loud and proud to save your ways of the world, a guide to help you gauge what's right or wrong.

    Look at the page. I love Lucille Clifton's self-praising sway and ode to my hips. I love Phillis Wheatley's "Hymn to Evening." Langston Hughes does more than sing America. He hears the dim, sweet song of the rain.

    Let it pour and flow like currents. Teach that in classrooms, too. Learn every verse. Lift every voice off of the flat white books. Get up. Rehearse. Recite. Remember every phrase.

    Black poets aren't a passing phase. Ask me about the part where I say the ocean always finds it way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Poet Erica Dawson.

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