African American poet
, editor, publisher and educator.
Born Naomi Cornelia Long to Pastor Clarence Marcellus Long and school teacher, Maude Hilton Long in Norfolk
in 1923. She published her first book of poems “Songs to a Phantom Nightingale” (Fortuny’s) at the age of 15. Her father had to sign the publishing contract on her behalf. Langston Hughes
eventually became her friend
. They met for the first time after his reading at Virginia State University
. She showed him a few of her poems
. Madgett received her BA (1945) from Virginia State University
Eventually, she married, and moved to Detroit
. In Michigan, she worked for the Michigan Chronicle. Her short lived marriage
produced one daughter
, Jill Witherspoon Boyer, also a poet now living in California
. In 1956, as a single mother
, she worked for Bell Telephone
. After marrying, William Harold Madgett, she was able to attend school full time. She received her M.Ed. from Wayne State University
in one year and published
her second book of poetry. She taught in the Detroit School system for 13 years before being hired
at Eastern Michigan University in 1968. Eventually she divorced
In 1972 she became a founding member
of the collective
which launched the Lotus Press
to publish her own poetry. Eventually support for the press by its benefactors ceased. She and her third husband, Leonard P. Andrews kept it going. Lotus Press became one of the most significant presses for African American
poets by awarding first books. Poets whose careers were launched include: Toi Derricote
, Haki Madhubuti
, Pinkie Gordon Lane
, Louie Crew
and E. Ethelbert Miller
. Lotus Press would not have survived if it hadn’t been for Madgett’s dedication who typed manuscripts by hand. Legend has it that she was hospitalized prior to Derricote’s print deadline and typed the manuscript laying in a hospital bed. After publishing 76 titles Lotus turned its distribution over to Michigan State University Press, with Madgett at the position of senior editor.
, Kathryn Vander
, captures this important writer
in "A Poet's Voice." The film looks at Madgett’s life and career and features her reading selections from "Octavia."
Madgett's books include: Songs to a Phantom Nightingale (Fortuny's, 1941),
One and the Many (Exposition, 1956),
Star by Star (Evenill, Inc., 1965),
Pink Ladies in the Afternoon (Lotus Press, 1972),
Exits and Entrances (Lotus Press, 1978),
Octavia and Other Poems (1988), and
Remembrances of Spring: Collected Early Poems (Michigan State University Press, 1993).
She has been the recipient of many awards, including the Robert Hayden Runagate Award from Heritage House in 1985, the Creative Achievement Award from the College Language Association and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation as an editor-publisher in 1993. In 2001, she was named Detroit’s Poet Laureate, replacing Dudley Randall after he passed away.
An energetic, soft-spoken, demure woman, it is hard to believe she is the dynamo in the history books. One of the most overlooked Black writers of the 20th century, she still touches the lives of young Black poets. Every year, a Black poet is awarded a first book in her name through the The Naomi Long Madgett Award. Guidelines for this award are available at:
Lotus Press, Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, PO Box 21607, Detroit, MI 48221, (313) 861-1280
Her advice to young writers at the Detroit Museum Of African American History was: "Give back. Give back to younger poets. Don't forget that someone has helped you."
Great articles, curriculum guides and an interview are available at: