AN HBW GEM: Naomi Long Madgett

Naomi Long Madgett reads from the lectern during the Phillis Wheatley Festival at Jackson State University in 1973. Photo courtesy of Roy Lewis.

In 2017, HBW staff member Morgan McComb [2017-2019] spent extensive time with acclaimed poet, editor and educator Naomi Long-Madgett for our GEMS project. Created in 2013, GEMS is an initiative created to bring increased awareness to important but often lesser-known Black writers and their work. McComb traveled to Southfield, Michigan, to interview Madgett. That interview became the basis of a video tribute to Madgett, which is available here.

Morgan McComb visits Naomi Long Madgett at her house to discuss her life’s work.

Naomi Long Madgett was born on July 5, 1923, in Norfolk, Virginia. She spent her childhood in East Orange, New Jersey, but her family later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she attended high school and developed a passion for writing. In 1941, Madgett published her debut poetry collection Songs to a Phantom Nightingale when she was 17 years old. In a career that has spanned nearly eighty years, most of them spent in Detroit, Madgett has published multiple works of poetry including Star by Star: Poems (1965), Pink Ladies in the Afternoon (1972), Octavia and Other Poems (1988) and Remembrances of Spring: Collected Early Poems (1993). Her autobiography, Pilgrim Journey appeared in 2006.  Throughout her career, Madgett balanced her time between teaching, writing and mentoring numerous poets and other writers. In 1972,  she made an major contribution to the poetry world when she founded Lotus Press (now merged with Broadside Lotus Press), which has published over 100 books of poetry. In 2001, Madgett was named Detroit Poet Laureate.

McComb’s interview with Madgett covers the poet’s early life as a preacher’s kid, her introduction to poetry, her relationship with Harlem Renaissance writers like Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes and her thoughts about the Black Arts Movement. In spring 2019, McComb’s blog for Women’s History Month previewed Madgett’s video tribute

“That’s one of the wonderful things about poetry. Poets write out of their own experience, but readers bring to a poem something of their own and interpret it in the light of their own experiences.”- Naomi Long Madgett, Pilgrim Journey


For more information on Black poetry, you can visit The Furious Flower Poetry Center and Cultural Front