Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti Shines a Light on the Women Who Influenced Him in New Book ‘Taught By Women’
I recently interviewed the legendary poet, author, educator, editor, founder & president of Third World Press Foundation, Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti on my podcast. Madhubuti is the bestselling author of poetry and non-fiction titles such as Don’t Cry, Scream! (1969), Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: The African American Family in Transition (1990), Tough Notes: A Healing Call For Creating Exceptional Black Men (2002), YellowBlack: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life, A Memoir (2006), and Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966–2009 (2009).
His critical and inspirational writings have served as guidebooks in Black literature and cultural consciousness primers for generations of poets, scholars, students, and educators. Madhubuti, known as an institution builder, is the founder of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University. He and his wife, Dr. Carol D. Lee founded the Institute of Positive Education, New Concept Development Center, and the Betty Shabazz International Charter Schools which serves over 600 Chicago children.
Madhubuti is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, the American Book Award, an Illinois Arts Council Award, the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, the President’s Pacesetters Award from the American Association of Blacks in Higher Education, the Ninth Annual Hurston/Wright Legacy prize in poetry, and others. He was recognized last month as the “Best Griot/Teacher/Scholar/Poet/Living History of Black Chicago” in Chicago’s Newcity publication.
Taught By Women: Poems as Resistance Language New and Selected is a collection of poems published by Madhubuti’s Third World Press Foundation in September. The front and back cover of the book lists the names of hundreds of notable women and organizations, who have made contributions in the worlds of the arts, education, politics, social justice, and other areas.
During our interview, Madhubuti shared his inspiration for his new collection of poetry. The book is dedicated to great women in his life including celebrated artists in literature and the arts. Among them: Ruby Dee, Ntozake Shange, Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Octavia Butler, and Jessye Norman. Madhubuti expressed that three women in particular helped to shape his path and purpose as a poet, author, educator, editor, and publisher. They are Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Dr. Barbara Sizemore, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Madhubuti shares during the interview, “Women who essentially took me under their arms and whispered in my ear…my name then was Don L. Lee. They would say, ‘Don this is your time, don’t waste it…We are going to work with you, share our resources with you.’”
Discussing Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Madhubuti shared:
“Dr. Margaret Burroughs was one of the co-founders of the DuSable Museum of African American History, the first Black museum in the country.”
Reflecting on Dr. Barbara Sizemore he stated:
“Dr. Barbara Ann Sizemore who was one of the premier educators in this country. In fact, she was one of the first Black superintendents of the D.C. school system. I was teaching at Howard University then. We put her on the cover of our magazine, The Black Books Bulletin.”
Calling her his “cultural mother,” Madhubuti discussed the influence of Pulitzer Prize — winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks:
“What I learned from Gwendolyn Brooks is that Gwendolyn Brooks was able to make her own decisions…What the great poet, writer Gwendolyn Brooks did is she planned out her life. And I was so fortunate to be a part of her family for over 33 years that when I founded the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Creative Writing and Black Literature at Chicago State University my next move was to see if I could bring Gwendolyn Brooks out of retirement. She’s one of the major writers in the world. Obviously being as close as we were I asked if she would come teach at Chicago State University.”
A woman who continues to be a great inspiration for Madhubuti, who he stated is “brilliant” — is his wife Dr. Carol D. Lee, an educational researcher, school director, author, and Professor Emeritus (the former Edwina S. Tarry Professor) of Education in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. A black and white photo of the couple smiling during earlier times, features in the book, with a caption stating, “For Dr. Carol D. Lee/Mama Safisha Madhubuti — Perpetually Teaching Haki.” The chapter “Heartlove” includes love poems inspired by Dr. Carol D. Lee and other couples.
Madhubuti’s poems flow within themed chapters paying homage to peers, mentors, notable artists, and loved ones.
In the chapter titled “Poetry Matters and More” Madhubuti pays homage to mothers in his collection writing:
mothers are not broken-homes, they are irreplaceable fire, a kiss or smile at a critical juncture, a hug or reprimand when doubts swim in, a calm glance when the world seems impossible, the back that America could not break.
Madhubuti tributes his mentor Gwendolyn Brooks. He writes in “Poet: Gwendolyn Brooks at 70”:
you came from the land of ivory and vegetation, of seasons with large women guarding secrets. your father was a running mountain, your mother a crop-gatherer and God-carrier, your family, earth grown waterfalls, all tested, clearheaded, focused. ready to engage.
In the chapter titled “Language Creators,” Madhubuti tributes Nobel Prize — winning author Toni Morrison. He writes:
it is the artist who sees beyond eyesight into the uncommon fragile bones of the newborn visualizing possibilities, bright-talk, inspirited learning, elating smiles, earned anticipation, quiet, shared and informed tomorrows
Madhubuti discussed during our interview that his new work is reflective of the necessity to support Black women in the face of perilous times. This work comes during a time of remembrance for Sandra Bland, Bogaletch Gebre, Breonna Taylor, and others. Madhubuti’s poem “Liberation Narratives” and poems in the chapter “Wonderment: Leaving Large Voices” pay homage to Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too movement. The poems highlight awareness for various issues impacting women.
Taught By Women: Poems as Resistance Language New and Selected is a poetry collection that should be introduced widely in university courses. Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti achieves two purposes with his new work: (1) upholding his commitment to support Black women and (2) once again contributing a necessary work to the canon of Black literature.