Every March, we celebrate the lives and accomplishments of women during Women’s History Month. Just like any other field, women have influenced poetry for centuries, departing from the traditional and pioneering new forms of poetic expression.
Below are 10 powerful women who have shaped American poetry and inspired a new generation of female poets, curated by Staff Culture Writer Layomi Adeojo:
If you’re on Instagram, you’ve likely stumbled across Kaur’s work. Her poetry, which features bold writing coupled with simple, yet compelling illustrations, touches on themes like love, femininity and identity.
Kaur’s first anthology, titled “milk and honey”, was a New York Times bestseller and resonated with people from all walks of life. Since then, she has released two more poetry collections: “the sun and her flowers” and “home body.”
One of the most renowned writers in history, Angelou’s works have been upheld as essential readings in Black literature. Her writing focuses heavily on racism, discrimination and identity, among other topics.
During her long, fruitful career, Angelou worked as a singer, dancer, actress, director, producer, composer and activist. Before her death in 2014, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her political and literary work by President Barack Obama.
At this year’s presidential inauguration, Gorman made history as the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, captivating the world with her poem “The Hill We Climb.” After becoming the first National Youth Poet Laureate back in 2017, Gorman has been active as both a poet and an activist for issues like racial justice and gender equality. Currently, she plans to release a collection of poetry this month and a children’s book titled “Change Sings in September.”
As a leader and activist during the 20th century Black Arts Movement, Sonia Sanchez paved the way for contemporary artists of color to share their work. Her writings, largely known for blending different genres of music with her poetry, have received countless awards, the most notable being the Robert Frost Medal and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award.
One of the most famous poets in US history, Emily Dickinson ushered in a new era of poetry that experimented with non-traditional forms of poetry. Her poems often experimented with unusual forms of punctuation, syntax and spelling choices.
Of her nearly 1,800 poems, the most famous one— titled “Hope is the thing with feathers”— has been consistently ranked among the greatest poems in the English language.
By her death in 2012, Rich was one of the most respected anti-war, pro-feminist poets in America. Her career lasted an impressive seven decades, where her writing covered topics of feminism, racism and politics. Her poetry from the late 1990s served as prominent texts during the second wave of the feminist movement.
Dedicated to a life of activism, Lorde advocated for issues regarding race, gender, sexuality, age, class and ability. Her works of poetry and prose channeled her experiences as a Black woman, lesbian, mother and activist. As the recipient of many honors and awards during her lifetime, Lorde has left behind a rich legacy that continues to celebrate those from LGBTQ and other marginalized communities.
A key figure in modern Native American literature, Harjo writes about themes like identity, social justice and feminism. In 2019, Harjo became the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate and still holds the position today. Much of her writing is autobiographical, and she relies heavily on the oral tradition, or spoken word.
Cathy Park Hong
The daughter of Korean immigrants, Hong channels her experiences as an Asian-American into her work. In addition to writing poetry, she has also authored a nonfiction book titled “Minor Feelings”, which provides a close examination of America’s racial consciousness and Anti-Asian racism.
Online, you can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where she actively advocates for Asian lives and social justice.
Drawing from her experiences as a Chicana woman, Cisneros engages with both her identities as a Latina and an American. Her writings combine Spanish with English as a larger way to comment on her dual identities.
Though she writes poetry, Cisneros is best known for her novel “The House on Mango Street,” which documents the experiences of a young Chicana girl growing up in the U.S.