Born in Norfolk, VA in 1923, Dr. Naomi Long Madgett was an active member of the Detroit community from 1946. In her early teaching career, she was a curriculum innovator at Northwestern High School, introducing African American Studies and advocating for textbook reform. She had brief appointments at Oakland University and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor but served as a professor for 16 years at Eastern Michigan University, from which she retired in 1984 as professor emerita.
Dr. Madgett authored 11 books of poetry, the last of which, You Are My Joy and Pain, was published by Wayne State University Press a few days before her passing. She was a recipient of many awards for her excellent poetry and her contributions as an educator. She won an American Book Award and received honorary doctorates from Loyola University-Chicago, Sienna Heights College, and Michigan State University. In 200l, Dr. Madgett was appointed Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit. She was named the Kresge Foundation Eminent Artist in 2012. A life-size bust of Dr. Madgett by Artis Lane is part of the permanent collection of the Charles H. Wright Museum.
As founder and publisher of Lotus Press, she volunteered her time for 43 years to edit and publish over 90 volumes of poetry. This work supported the aspirations of many African American poets who won national recognition, including Haki R. Madhubuti, Dudley Randall, Toi Derricotte, James A. Emanuel, Gayl Jones, Bill Harris, and Oliver LaGrone. Dr. Madgett also published the poetry anthology, Adam of Ifé: Black Women in Praise of Black Men, a groundbreaking tribute to African American men.
When Dr. Madgett retired as publisher in 2015, she entrusted Lotus Press to Broadside Press, the Detroit publishing company founded in 1965 by her beloved friend, Dudley Randall. Honoring her legacy, Broadside Lotus Press now conducts the annual Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award (NLM Award) competition and publishes the manuscript of the winning poet. The NLM Award books are distributed by Wayne State University Press.
As a committed Plymouth Church member, an educator, poet, and publisher, over her long lifetime, Dr. Madgett mentored and advanced the careers of many, while also contributing her talents to building and strengthening African American institutions in Detroit. As Detroit’s Poet Laureate, she held a place in our hearts because of her love for and loyalty to our community, and her unwavering commitment to illustrate through literature the deep beauties of African American culture and spirituality. Dr. Madgett now assumes her rightful place among our revered and treasured African American ancestors.
this excavator of language,
Black knowledges, understated habits with
long lines that travel into the lives of the
back and front rooms of families, friends, strangers,
loved ones and sometimes neighbors who recognize
themselves in poems and let out the secret
“we have a poet living among us.”
forever searching for listening ears,
reading eyes with
open heads and hearts receptive to the
printing of her insides upon us
attempting to draft us idiot proof.
always the teacher, the word composer, creator of
weaponized women, listening and aware men both
responses to the dangers free artists convey.
protector of otherness, children and stone people.
your smile was optimism, questioning and can do.
i never visualized you having nightmares
you wrote them away exhibiting
a part of your magic was in saving us.
it is in your poetry that we and you will live.
for Naomi Long Madgett (1923-2020)
poet, teacher, professor, activist, editor, publisher, dear sister and family woman
Haki R. Madhubuti
Founder and Publisher, Third World Press, Chicago