Interview - Detroit - Madgett

Interview - Detroit - Madgett



Born in East Orange, New Jersey, poet Naomi Long Madgett moved to Detroit in the late 1940s, and for decades was a heralded school teacher. In the 1960s, she created the first black literary course in the city, and later, in 1968, she joined the faculty at Eastern Michigan University. Throughout her years in Detroit, she has written and published poetry to wide-spread acclaim. And in 2001, she was named Detroit’s poet laureate.


I GOT ENGAGED by mail because my first husband was still in the army.

WE DIDN’T even have time for a wedding reception because we had to catch the train to Detroit.

WE COULDN’T EAT at some restaurants or stay in some hotels. I didn’t expect that here.

THERE ARE good and bad people in all races. I went through prejudice so early in my life, that I couldn’t let that consume me.

IT SEEMS STRANGE to be 90 years old. I still can’t imagine it, but I did have a great party.

MY FIRST POEM was published by a daily newspaper in Virginia when I was 13.

I MET Langston Hughes when I was at Virginia State College, and I timidly gave him a loose-leaf notebook of my poems. And in the middle of his reading, he read several of mine.

HE HAD READ the whole thing and penciled comments.

If a line comes to me in bed, I don’t dare wait until morning.

PEOPLE THINK there’s something sacrosanct about spontaneity. Poems don’t come out perfect the first time.

IF IT COMES on like a caveman, if it drags me by the hair, then I’ll write it.

A DRY PERIOD is when nothing comes. When I do start writing again, there’s something different.

IF A LINE comes to me in bed, I don’t dare wait until morning. I turn the lamp on, then another line comes, turn it off, turn it back on.

THERE’S SO much subconscious in poetry.

MY MOST POPULAR poem is “Midway.” I've come this far to freedom and I won't turn back / I'm climbing to the highway from my old dirt track.

EVERYBODY likes it but me.