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Naomi Long Madgett

Poet and English professor emeritus Naomi Cornelia Long Madgett was born on July 5, 1923 in Norfolk, Virginia to the Reverend Clarence Marcellus Long and the former Maude Selena Hilton. Growing up in East Orange, New Jersey, she attended Ashland Grammar School and Bordentown School. At age twelve, Madgett’s poem, My Choice, was published on the youth page of the Orange Daily Courier. In 1937, the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri where her schoolmates included Margaret Bush Wilson, E. Sims Campbell and lifelong friend, baritone Robert McFerrin, Sr. Madgett, at age fifteen, established a friendship with Langston Hughes. Just days after graduating with honors from Charles Sumner High School in 1941, Madgett’s first book of poetry, Songs to a Phantom Nightingale was published. She attended Virginia State University during World War II and graduated with her B.A. degree in 1945.

Madgett attended graduate school at New York University. In 1946, she married and moved to Detroit, Michigan where she worked as a copywriter for the Michigan Chronicle and the Michigan Bell. In 1949, her poem Refugee appeared in The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 and in 1950, several of her poems were featured in American Literature by Negro Authors. Occasionally, Madgett read her poetry for the Detroit Study Club. After marrying William H. Madgett in 1954, she earned her M.Ed. from Wayne State University in 1955. Madgett taught at Northwestern High School, while two other books; 1956’s One and the Many and 1965’s Star by Star gained local accolade. Madgett joined a group of black Detroit writers including Margaret Danner, Oliver LaGrone, Dudley Randall, Harold G. Lawrence, Edward Simpkins, Gloria Davis, Alma Parks, James Thompson and Betty Ford who met at Boone House. They were featured along with James Edward McCall and playwrights Powell Lindsay and Woodie King, Jr. in the October 1962 issue of the Negro History Bulletin. Madgett’s poetry was also published in the Negro Digest and Hughes’s 1964 anthology, New Negro Poets: U.S.A. In 1965, she was awarded the Mott Fellowship in English.

In 1968, Madgett was included in Ten: Anthology of Detroit Poets and joined the faculty of Eastern Michigan University where she wrote A Student’s Guide to Creative Writing. Madgett’s 1971 African travels inspired the poems Phillis, and Glimpses of Africa. She earned her Ph.D. from Greenwich University in 1980. Octavia and Other Poems was published in 1988 by Third World Press. Madgett formed Lotus Press in 1972 and published her own book, Pink Ladies in the Afternoon. She edited the acclaimed Adam of Ife: Black Women in Praise of Black Men in 1992. Madgett is the recipient of many honors including 1993’s American Book Award and the George Kent Award in 1995.

Madgett, who was made Detroit’s Poet Laureate by Mayor Dennis Archer, continues as a vital part of Detroit’s cultural life.

Accession Number

A2007.072

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/5/2007 |and| 6/27/2007

Last Name

Madgett

Maker Category
Middle Name

Long

Occupation
Schools

Charles H. Sumner High School

Ashland Grammar School

Virginia State University

New York University

Wayne State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Naomi

Birth City, State, Country

Norfolk

HM ID

MAD04

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

7/5/1923

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chocolate

Short Description

Poet and english professor Naomi Long Madgett (1923 - ) was first published at age twelve. Madgett was the recipient of many honors including 1993's American Book Award and the George Kent Award in 1995.

Employment

Michigan Bell Telephone

Northern High School

Northwestern High School

Eastern Michigan University

Favorite Color

Blue

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Naomi Long Madgett's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about her mother's childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her mother's education and career

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers her paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her paternal aunt, Octavia Long, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her paternal aunt, Octavia Long, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls researching her paternal aunt, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls researching her paternal aunt, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett describes Guthrie, Oklahoma

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers Reverend S.S. Jones

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls the racism in East Orange, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her father's personality

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her poem, 'Reluctant Light'

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers East Orange, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett describes Ashland Grammar School in East Orange, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers Calvary Baptist Church, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers Calvary Baptist Church, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls tension at Calvary Baptist Church in East Orange, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls leaving Calvary Baptist Church

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers Robert McFerrin, Sr.

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers Charles H. Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls her graduating class at Charles H. Sumner High School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers her classes at Charles H. Sumner High School

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her brother's military service

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls learning about black history

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers Langston Hughes

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her first book of poetry

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers the release of her first book of poetry

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls her decision to attend Virginia State College for Negroes in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her paternal grandmother

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls visiting Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers rationing during World War II

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers her brother's disappearance during World War II

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her brother's time in prison camp

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls her brother's release from prison camp

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about the important role of teachers

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers professors at Virginia State College for Negroes

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers historian, Luther Porter Jackson, Sr.

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett describes the history of Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls graduating from Virginia State College for Negroes

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about her first marriage

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls being hired at Michigan Bell Telephone Company

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about completing her master's degree

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls her early teaching career

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett describes the inspiration for her poetry

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her poem, 'Midway'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her poem, 'Alabama Centennial'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about the theme of race in her poetry

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her style of poetry

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about the impact of 'Midway,' pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about the impact of 'Midway,' pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers the Boone House group in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers African American writers in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Slating of Naomi Long Madgett's interview, session 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls meeting African American poets in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett describes the Boone House poets

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls working for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls working for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about her teaching career

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her civil rights poems

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls her childhood inspiration

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers the deaths of her brothers

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about writing new poetry

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett recites her poem, 'Reluctant Light'

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett recites her poem, 'Connected Islands'

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett recounts her paternal family history

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls conducting research on her paternal family

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls visiting Guthrie, Oklahoma

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett remembers starting Lotus Press

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls early publications of Lotus Press

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett describes the authors published by Lotus Press

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about Lotus Press' operations

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls serving as poet laureate of Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett describes other poet laureates

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett talks about the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett compares spoken word poetry and written poetry

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her future plans

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Naomi Long Madgett describes her organizational memberships

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Naomi Long Madgett recalls donating her papers

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Naomi Long Madgett reflects upon her life

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Naomi Long Madgett reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Naomi Long Madgett shares her hopes for future generations

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Naomi Long Madgett describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Naomi Long Madgett narrates her photographs

DASession

1$2

DATape

4$9

DAStory

6$4

DATitle
Naomi Long Madgett remembers Langston Hughes
Naomi Long Madgett recites her poem, 'Connected Islands'
Transcript
When we went to St. Louis [Missouri] I met Langston Hughes for the first time. I was about fifteen.$$Now, tell us about that. Now you, you, you were, you were a sophomore in high school [Charles H. Sumner High School, St. Louis, Missouri] I guess, or, or--$$Something like that.$$And, and you met Langston. How did you meet Langston Hughes (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well, he was, he was touring. And this was about--I'm trying to think of the copyright date on the book he gave me--about '39 [1939] or '40 [1940] I think. He was speaking at a women's, black women's literary meeting, and my mother [Maude Hilton Long] took me there, and I told him I was writing poetry. And he talked to me and said, "Don't ever pay to have your poems published," and he gave me a signed copy of 'A New Song' [Langston Hughes]. And then the next time I saw him I was at Virginia State [Virginia State College for Negroes; Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia], and he was going to do a reading there, and I met with him with a small literary group that I belonged to in the afternoon of the reading. And I had a notebook, loose leaf notebook, with typed poems of mine, and I asked him if he had time would he look at some of them and tell me what he thought. So he said, "Yes, I'll give it back to you after the reading tonight." So in the middle of his reading, he read some of my poems and said that I had authored them, and my head got this big. He praised me. And when I get to get the notebook back, people had joined him on the stage. And I stood off to the side, but he saw me there, and he, he brought the book to me, and he had gone through all of the poems and written penciled notes, which I immediately covered with scotch tape and so it wouldn't get erased. And then when I heard that he and Arna Bontemps were doing a, an anthology of black poetry--'Negro'--'The Poetry of the Negro: 19--1746 to 1949' ['The Poetry of the Negro: 1746 to 1949,' eds. Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes], I sent him several of the poems, and he included one ["Refugee," Naomi Long Witherspoon] of them in there. And I stayed in touch with him until his death. Every time he was in Detroit [Michigan], somebody had a party for him, and I was always there. But he was the most wonderful person in the world, just down to earth, very helpful, encouraging to other poets, younger poets. And a number of black women poets could tell the same story. Mari Evans knew him much better than I did, but she and Margaret Walker and I were at least three of the black poets that he had, had encouraged.$$That's something.$'Connected--$$'Connected Islands' (simultaneous)--$$--(simultaneous) Islands.'$$--'New and Selected Poems' ['Connected Islands: New and Selected Poems,' Naomi Long Madgett].$$The title, tell me about the title.$$I guess it came from the introductory poem. Do I have time to read that?$$Sure.$$Okay, and I'm, I'm gonna sing part of it because--try to sing part of it, because it, it's excerpts from songs.$$All right.$$But everything is connected ["Connected Islands," Naomi Long Madgett]: "Disjointed words and phrases come to me in dreams like scattered islands. Rising from secret places, they flow to the surface of consciousness, spill onto empty pages. But I tell you this, they will all come together. Everything means, and nothing is isolated. 'Rock-a-bye baby on the treetop' a mother in Africa rocks her infant, dying of starvation, belly distended. 'When the bow breaks,' a sergeant in Baltimore on furlough scribbles a note before she leaps from a ninth floor ledge. So long, badness. I did love you. See you there. Her broken bones lie at awkward angles on the sidewalk. The next week, her married soldier-lover follows her in suicide. I cover the waterfront, searching for a love that cannot live, yet never dies. A woman shivers under the boardwalk in Atlantic City, with only a box for shelter. In a funeral home in London the ring that covered head of a year old baby rests on a pillow in a small white casket. Nearby the shriveled hands of a woman in her nineties hold a rose with his sheep securely fold you. The space between them is heavy with formaldehyde, ends and beginnings, change and decay. They're alone; they are together. Even separate islands are connected by some sea. And we are sisters touching across the waters of our disparate lives, singing our untold stories in a harmo- harmony of undulating waves." So that, I decided that that should be the introductory poem to the book.$$Okay.