Detroit poet laureate’s archives housed at U-M

May 11, 2004

Detroit poet laureate’s archives housed at U-M

ANN ARBOR—As a child, Naomi Long Madgett found blank sheets of paper a challenge and a delight.

"I covered them with my poems. They became ‘books’ folded and held together with safety pins," she wrote in her autobiography. "Writing was the only way I could cope with the frustrations of my childhood. By the time I was 12, I had composed 100 poems. After that I stopped counting."

Madgett is the poet laureate of Detroit and has eight volumes of her own poetry and works included in more than 180 anthologies. Her personal and business correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts for writings and authors who contributed to her Lotus Press publishing business are archived at the University of Michigan’s Special Collections Library. The archive will be catalogued and available for research within a few months and includes photographs, audio and video recordings of poetry readings and interviews, business records and a comprehensive collection of materials published by the Lotus Press.

"We are both pleased and honored to add the Naomi Long Madgett and Lotus Press archive to our collections," said Peggy Daub, head of the Special Collections Library. "Ms. Madgett’s poetry is elegant and insightful, and both her own writing and her work on behalf of other poets through the Lotus Press has made a lasting impact on African-American writers in Detroit and the United States."

A native of Virginia, Madgett grew up in various states and cities as her Baptist minister father accepted assignments throughout the Midwest and East Coast. As a young mother and teacher in Detroit during the 1950s, Madgett found time to be active as a poet, giving readings and writing. Her best known poem, "Midway," was widely reprinted and recited during the Civil Rights Movement, even set to music. As a teacher, Madgett introduced the first course on African-American literature in the Detroit Public Schools in 1965 and taught a similar course at U-M in 1970. During a 16-year teaching career at Eastern Michigan University, she founded Lotus Press, Inc.

Originally established as a means to publishing and encouraging one of Madgett’s promising EMU students, Lotus Press has, in its 30-year history, published more than 80 titles. Its mission of encouraging poets is continued today through the annual Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize, awarded to a poet whose work is then published by the Press.

Examples of Madgett’s and Lotus Press’s work are displayed through May 29 in the Special Collections Library on the 7th floor of the Hatcher Graduate Library on U-M’s Central Campus. The display, available for viewing 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m.-noon. The collection is part of the library’s exhibition "Spotlight on New Arrivals."

For more information about the Special Collections Library, visit: