Thursday, January 15, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander, inaugural poet

I wanted to post a bit of information about the poet chosen to speak at President Obama's inauguration: Elizabeth Alexander.

She's a poet, essayist, teacher and playwright who was born in NYC and raised in DC. She has degrees from Yale and Boston University. She currently teaches in the African American Studies Department at Yale.

She has just written her first book of poetry for young adults: Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. It's a beautiful, moving book about a school for African-American girls in the early 1830s in Connecticut which was started by a Quaker woman. It's told in a series of poems (written alternately by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson) from the perspective of the young girls enrolled in the school. I loved the way it shows both Miss Crandall's and the young girls' tenacity and courage to pursue an education. It would be a great read-aloud with grades 3-6, or for middle school students on their own. You can find it at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.

Ms. Alexander will compose a new poem for the inauguration. This is actually not a long-standing tradition. Presidents Kennedy and Clinton both had poets speak at their inaugurations, but few other presidents have done this.

for more info:
the text of the inaugural poem: "Praise Song for the Day"
Ms. Alexander's website
Articles from the NY Times

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
from American Sublime, by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?


  1. Wow, that lady has some voice! Great post and I will definitely look out for her.

  2. I just saw a piece about her last night on the news, but they didn't mention she had a book. I'm going to look it up right now. Great post!

  3. This is great. Thank you. I am off to check out her website.