Women & Multi-Ethnic Poets in American Poetry

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      Women in literature, like minority literature and surrealism, first became aware of itself as a driving force in American life during the late 1960s. Women’s literature flourished in the feminist movement initiated in that era. Literature in the United States, as in most other countries, was long based on male standards that often overlooked women’s contributions. Yet there are many women poets of distinction in American writing. Not all are feminists, not do their subjects invariably voice women’s concerns. More often than not, they are humanists. Also, the regional, political, and racial differences have shaped their work and given them food for thought. Distinguished women poets include Amy Clampitt, Rita Dove, Louise Glick, Jorie Graham, Carolyn Kizer, Maxine Kumin, the late Denise Levertov, Audre Lorde, Gertrude Schnackenberg, May Swenson, and Mona Van Duyn.

      The second half of the 20th century has witnessed a renaissance in multi-ethnic literature, beginning with the 1960s following the lead of African-Americans, ethnic writers in the United States began to command public attention. During the 1970s ethnic studies, programs were begun. In the 1980s, a number of academic journals, professional organizations, and literary magazines devoted to ethnic groups were initiated. By the 1990s, conferences devoted to the study of specific ethnic literatures had begun, and the canon of “classics” had been expanded to include ethnic writers in anthologies and course lists. The important issues included race vs ethnicity, ethnocentrism vs polycentrism, and computation vs marginalization. Deconstruction, applied to political as well as literary texts, called the status quo into constant question. Minority poetry shares the variety and occasionally, the anger of women’s writing. It has flowered recently in Hispanic-Americans such as Gary Soto, Alberto Rios, and Lorna Dee Cervantes; in Native Americans such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz, and Louise Aldrich; in African-American writers such as Amiri Baraka (Le Ri Jones), Michael Harper, Rita Dove, Maya Angelou, and Nikkei Giovanni; and in Asian- American poets such as Cathy Song, Lawson Inada, and Janice Mirkitani.

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