Migration Letters: Poems (Raised Voices #5) (Paperback)

Migration Letters: Poems (Raised Voices #5) By M. Nzadi Keita Cover Image

Migration Letters: Poems (Raised Voices #5) (Paperback)

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A poetry collection that reflects on intimate aspects of Black history, culture, and identity, revealing an uncommon gaze on working-class Philadelphia from the 1960s to the present day

In 55 poems, Migration Letters straddles the personal and public with particular, photorealistic detail to identify what, over time, creating a home creates in ourselves. Drawn from her experiences of being born in Philadelphia into a Black family and a Black culture transported from the American South by the Great Migration, M. Nzadi Keita’s poetry sparks a profoundly hybrid gaze of the visual and the sensory. Her lyrical fragments and sustained narrative plunge into the unsung aspects of Black culture and explore how Black Americans journey toward joy.

Propelled by the conditions that motivated her family’s migration north, the poems pull heavily from Keita’s place in her family, communities, and the world at large. They testify to her time and circumstances growing up Black in Philadelphia on the periphery of the civil rights and Black Power movements. Each poem builds upon an inheritance of voices: a panoramic perspective of an Easter Sunday service in a Black church gives way to an account of psychic violence in a newly integrated school; the collective voices of a beauty salon’s patrons fragment into memories of neighborhoods in North Philadelphia that have faded over time.

Migration Letters strives to tell a story about Black people that radiates across generations and testifies to a world that, as Lucille Clifton wrote, “has tried to kill [us] and has failed.” They interrogate how one’s present begins in the past, what we gain from barriers and boundaries, and what notions of progress energize our journey forward. Keita’s poems intimately reveal how Black culture can be inherited and built upon complex relationships where love and pain are inextricably linked.
M. Nzadi Keita is a poet, essayist, scholar and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection, Brief Evidence of Heaven—a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Prize—sheds light on Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s first wife, and is cited by David Blight in his prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Keita’s work has appeared in A Face to Meet the Faces: A Persona Poetry Anthology and journals including Killens Review of Arts and Letters and Poet Lore. A Cave Canem alumna, she taught creative writing, American literature, and Africana studies at Ursinus College. She was an adviser to the award-winning documentary, BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez, and has consulted with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Foundation and Mural Arts Philadelphia. Keita has presented poetry and scholarship at national and international conferences. Her prose will appear in the forthcoming When We Exhale: Reflections on Rest, Grief, & Intimacy from Black Freighter Press. Connect with her on IG: @nzadikeita
Product Details ISBN: 9780807008072
ISBN-10: 0807008079
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2024
Pages: 160
Language: English
Series: Raised Voices
“As if entering a darkroom, Sister M. Nzadi Keita has entered the silences surrounding Black working-class migrants, transforming their lives, and carved that quiet, steady living into photographs. We see their journeys out of Southern kitchens and sawmills to Philadelphia homes and churches, newly integrated schools, resonant Civil Rights trauma, and college campuses. Into these disregarded interiors, her poems breathe air.”
—Sonia Sanchez

“How do we make a city with a name like ‘Philadelphia’ work for us when Philadelphia makes it hard for our blue-collar fathers to go to work? Migration Letters is a book of poems that has at its heart the question of cognitive dissonance in Black people who survive, participate, and thrive in an America they cannot fully trust.”
—Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition

“Keita has given us a long-breath song of Black witness, missed kisses, and love’s labors lost, longed for, and remembered. Migration Letters summons life from clay and concrete and loam, reconfigures it into lyric, stanza, testimony.”
—Jabari Asim, author of Yonder

“With a wonderfully discerning focus on the lives of working-class Black Americans, Nzadi Keita’s Migration Letters [is] beautifully imagined, carefully considered. This collection, page by page, develops an elaborate portrait of a place and a people during the last sixty years. Though set in Philadelphia, these poems will compel all readers to reflect upon their upbringings, as well as on the intricate puzzle of elements that shaped and sustained their lives. With language that is both lyrical and unflinching, Migration Letters recalls the jagged, somewhat miraculous journey that each of us has taken.”
—Tim Seibles, author of Voodoo Libretto