"So My Soul Can Sing"*
Black Identity and Women
One of my most inspiring takeaways from the archival materials I read was the unabashed humanity of Etheridge Knight. I feel there is often pressure in creative communities to present the most perfect and polished version of your art you possibly can. The first poem I read by Knight was entitled “Feeling F---ed
Up. ” This poem breaks the operating framework of poise and perfection; it is a poem of raw, visceral, unedited, relatable emotion. Knight’s willingness to honestly explore raw emotion is foundational to his ability to connect with others and to oer insight into issues of human concern.
I focus on two interconnected facets of Knight’s work that offer insight into his humanity. First, many of Knight’s poems are inspired by the women in his life, whether it be his mother, his daughter, his lovers, or his mentor. These poems oer a window into Knight’s life based on human connection. While Knight was
influenced by and influenced many women, three women are well-represented in the archives: Sonia Sanchez, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Deta Galloway. All three are or were poets and not only served as mentors for Knight but also made significant contributions to the creative sphere as Black women.
My second focus derives from Knight’s willingness to honestly explore his own identity and experience. Knight, Sanchez, and Brooks were unwaveringly firm in their Blackness, and it shines through their creative work. They were unafraid of being political; to be Black is to live in a state of politics at all times. To be a
woman is to live in a state of politics at all times. They didn’t run from who they were; they poured every burden and aspiration into their work and were deeply fueled by their identities. In this sense, they are profoundly connected to and perhaps even guided by each other in their approach to life and in their
contributions to the Black Arts Movement.
The artifacts presented here highlight these intersecting themes: the influence of women on Knight’s creative identity and how Knight’s poetry embodies Black experience in a way that offers audiences an opportunity to identify as fellow human beings.
*"So My Soul Can Sing" is drawn from Knight's poem "Felling F---ed Up," published in The Essential Etheridge Knight, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986