from the Wall Street Journal, Friday, January 9, 2009:
When Barack Obama tapped the poet Elizabeth Alexander, a longtime friend, to read at his inauguration on Jan. 20, he selected a message as well as a medium. Born in Harlem in 1962 and raised in Washington, Ms. Alexander teaches in the African-American studies department at Yale and writes extensively about that academic trifecta -- race, class and gender.
Ms. Alexander comes from a political and academic family and is a champion of politically engaged poetry. Her father, Clifford L. Alexander Jr., advised Lyndon B. Johnson on civil rights and later served as secretary of the Army under Jimmy Carter. Her younger brother, Mark, a law professor at Seton Hall, recently transitioned from Mr. Obama's campaign staff to his transition team.
So readily do the views expressed in Ms. Alexander's award-winning
writing -- the need for social progress and transformation -- harmonize
with Mr. Obama's victory that the message almost precedes the poem.
Right now, though, the pressure is on her to deliver the goods. Any
poet would find the task more than a little daunting: setting the tone
for Mr. Obama's nascent presidency while finding a voice for the
American people at this distinctive (and turbulent) time in our
history. Ms. Alexander's credentials suggest that she is up to the
task, but the proof is in the poetry.
Click here for more of David Yezzi's "Bards at the Inaugural Gates."