Explore four centuries of African American nature poets.
Black Nature is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets. This genre has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated. Camille T. Dungy, the editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry, included nearly 200 poems reaching back to the mid-1700s.
Black poets have a long tradition of incorporating treatments of the natural world into their work, but it is often read as political, historical, or protest-anything but nature poetry. This is particularly true when the definition of what constitutes nature writing is limited to work about the pastoral or the wild.
“The way that the tradition of nature poetry has taken off in America in particular is often about a pastoral landscape, a very idealized rural landscape, or a wilderness landscape in which people are involved,” Dungy told NPR’s Renee Montagne in a 2020 interview. “And black people have been typically working in the land, and that’s not part of the idyllic version of things. And then also the majority of African-Americans have tended to live in urban landscapes, and so there’s a very different view, quite often, of the natural world.”
Black Nature brings to the fore a neglected and vital means of considering poetry by African Americans and nature-related poetry as a whole.