Knight's Digital Exhibit
Welcome to the Digital Exhibit! These are findings from each student researcher that they discovered in the Butler University Archives. The students focused on three main themes related to Knight's life: Community Poet, Origins and Influences, and Black Identity and Women.
Click on one of the themes to learn more about what each student discovered, and for more about Knight's life through these pieces.
"The Sea in Me...The Sea in You"
Etheridge Knight, the Community Poet
by Chris Strong
As you read through the letters, poems, essay drafts, cards, newspapers, and flyers in the archives, I hope you discovered Etheridge Knight as the Community Poet. He was not only a prison poet or a Black Arts Movement poet as he is commonly hailed, but someone who lived in the Word, who made and found communities that mapped onto his identities, who could connect with anyone through the sharing of feelings. For Knight, the personal became public and the personal public as he poeted through his deepest suffering and greatest blisses. He took a specific experience—Black, formerly incarcerated, junkie—and made it universal through speaking in ways people could understand and by evoking what he called “the universality of feelings.” He found community by speaking his poems among the people not only on college campuses and in poetry reading audiences, but in prisons, high schools, workshops, political affinity groups, family, and friends. They recognized the intensity, joy, love, and hurt in his poetry in their hearts or their own lives, and enjoyed both his work and his company.
"So My Soul Can Sing"
Etheridge Knight, Black Identity and Women
by DaCoda Love
The artifacts presented here highlight these two intersecting themes: the influence of women such as, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, and Deta Galloway in particular, on Knight’s creative identity and poetry. Knight’s ability to draw on his experience to create poetry that embodies the experience of being Black in a way that offers readers and listeners, through what Knight termed “the universality of emotions,” an opportunity to comprehend and identify with his experience as fellow human beings.
"A Denominator, Common or Uncommon"
Etheridge Knight, Origins and Influences
By Nate Lemen
Many of these artifacts helped shed light on Knight’s work as a “prison poet”; there were both directly related things, like flyers and agendas for workshops he put at prisons across the United States to personal correspondence with prisoners, and other artifacts which highlighted how Knight drew upon his past to try to make life better for people who were facing similar circumstances. For Knight, being a “prison poet” wasn't only about writing poetry while imprisoned, but instead about using poetry as a means for expression, as a way to fight for a life and passions beyond what he had immediately available. This was his way of finding solidarity with people whom he otherwise would have had no connection.