About Etheridge KnightEtheridge Knight (1931-1991) was an African-American poet who became a notable poet in 1968 with his debut volume, Poems from Prison. The book recalls in verse his eight-year-long sentence after Etheridge was arrested for robbery in 1960. It was during his time in prison that he began to Write poetry. However, before he began to write, he practiced his poetic talents by reciting Toasts, a traditional African art form consisting of long, narrative poems with rhymed couplets that are memorized and recited orally. Toasts allowed Knight to compose and articulate his thoughts on drugs, racial conflicts, sex, and violence using street slang, prison vocabulary, obscenities, and African American vernacular. While in prison, Knight developed contacts with other African American poets such as Sonia Sanchez, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Dudley Randall.
Poems from Prison, with a preface written by Brooks, was published by Randall's Broadside Press while he was still incarcerated. After his release, Knight married several times, first to poet Sonia Sanchez in 1968, then to Mary Ann McAnally and to Charlene Blackburn. He earned his B.A. in American poetry and criminal justice from Martin Center University in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1990. He is considered one of the major famous poets of the Black Arts Movement, which flourished from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s.
Etheridge Knight enjoyed a varied career. In addition to writing poetry, he served as writer-in-residence at several universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, (1968-1969), Hartford University (1969-1970), and Lincoln University (1972). He also contributed numerous poems and articles to magazines and journals such as Black Digest, Essence, Motive, and American Report. He was the poetry editor for Motive in 1972 and a contributing editor for New Letters in 1974. He gave poetry readings quite widely during this time, but by 1974 his marriage to Sanchez had ended and Knight sought treatment for his continuing narcotics addiction.
Knight received several awards for his poetry, most notably a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1973 and a National Book Award nomination in the same year for Belly Song and Other Poems. He was the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants (1972 and 1980) as well as a Self-Development Through the Arts grant (1974) and a Guggenheim fellowship (1974). His final collection of poems, The Essential Etheridge Knight (1986), was awarded the American Book Award in 1987.
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