Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Elizabeth Alexander  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Poetry

Born: 1962 in New York, New York

Sites:


Illinois Connection

Alexander taught at the University of Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher born in New York City and raised in Washington, DC. Alexander has degrees from Yale University and Boston University and completed her Ph.D. in English at the University of Pennsylvania.


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

The Venus Hottentot: Poems
ISBN: 1555973922

Graywolf Press. 2004

Elizabeth Alexander's highly praised first collection is available once again

I didn't want to write a poem that said "blackness
is," because we know better than anyone
that we are not one or ten or ten thousand things
Not one poem
-from "Today's News"

Originally published in 1990 to widespread acclaim, The Venus Hottentot introduces Elizabeth Alexander's vital poetic voice, distinguished even in this remarkable first book by its examination of history, gender, and race with an uncommon clarity and music. These poems range from personal memory to cultural history to human personae: John Coltrane, Frida Kahlo, Nelson Mandela, and "The Venus Hottentot," a nineteenth-century African woman who was made into a carnival sideshow exhibit.

In language as vibrant within traditional forms as it is within improvisational lyrics, the poems in The Venus Hottentot demonstrate why Alexander is among our most dazzling and important contemporary poets and cultural critics.

"Alexander creates intellectual magic in poem after poem."
--The New York Times Book Review

Body of Life: Poems
ISBN: 1882688120

Tia Chucha Press. 1997

Tia Chucha Press is proud to reprint Elizabeth Alexander’s “Body of Life,” first published in 1996 and a collection that stands as a testament to the well-wrought line with the deeply threaded elements of history, ancestors, jazz, and family that mark the rare power inherent in Ms. Alexander’s work. Her selection as the Inaugural Poet for 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama is well deserved―she is one of the most fresh and vital voices in American literature today.

Antebellum Dream Book
ISBN: 155597354X

Graywolf Press. 2001

In surprising turns through different American cities, mindsets, and eras, and through the strange rhythms of dreaming, the celebrated poet Elizabeth Alexander composes her own kind of improvisational jazz. Antebellum Dream Book offers a music of resistances as well as soaring flights of fancy: the conflicts of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and after

a mother's struggle to see through a postpartum fog

a vision in which the poet takes on the narrative voice of Muhammad Ali. The New York Times Book Review has said that "Alexander creates intellectual magic in poem after poem." In this stunning collection, she furthers her reputation as a vital and vivid poetic voice keenly attuned to our ideas of race, gender, politics, and motherhood.

The Black Interior: Essays
ISBN: 1555973930

Graywolf Press. 2004

With a poet's precision and an intellectually adventurous spirit, Elizabeth Alexander explores a wide spectrum of contemporary African American artistic life through literature, paintings, popular media, and films, and discusses its place in current culture. In The Black Interior, she examines the vital roles of such heavyweight literary figures as Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, and Rita Dove, as well as lesser known, yet vibrant, new creative voices. She offers a reconsideration of "afro-outr" painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, the concept of "race-pride" in Jet magazine, and her take on Denzel Washington's career as a complex black male icon in a post-affirmative action era. Also available is Alexander's much heralded essay on Rodney King, Emmett Till, and the collective memory of racial violence.

Alexander, who has been a professor at the University of Chicago and Smith College, and recently at Yale University, has taught and lectured on African American art and culture across the country and abroad for nearly two decades. In The Black Interior, she directs her scrupulous poet's eye to the urgent cultural issues of the day. This lively collection is a crucial volume for understanding current thinking on race, art, and culture in America.

American Sublime: Poems
ISBN: 1555974325

Graywolf Press. 2005

A brilliant new collection by Elizabeth Alexander, whose "poems bristle with the irresistible quality of a world seen fresh" (Rita Dove, The Washington Post)

Too many people have seen too much
and lived to tell, or not tell, or tell
with their silent, patterned bodies,
their glass eyes, gone legs, flower-printed flesh . . .
-from "Notes From"

In her fourth remarkable collection, Elizabeth Alexander voices the outcries, dreams, and histories of an African American tradition that goes back to the slave rebellion on the Amistad and to the artists' canvases of nineteenth-century America. In persona poems, historical narratives, jazz riffs, sonnets, elegies, and a sequence of ars poetica, American Sublime is Alexander's most vivid and varied collection and affirms her place as one of America's most lively and gifted writers.

"Alexander is an unusual thing, a sensualist of history, a romanticist of race. She weaves biography, history, experience, pop culture and dream. Her poems make the public and private dance together." --Chicago Tribune

American Blue
ISBN: 1852247304

BLOODAXE BOOKS. 2006

Book by Alexander , Elizabeth

Power and Possibility: Essays, Reviews, and Interviews (Poets On Poetry)
ISBN: 0472069373

University of Michigan Press. 2007

A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.

Elizabeth Alexander is considered one of the country's most gifted contemporary poets, and the publication of her essays in The Black Interior in 2004 established her as an astute critic and cultural commentator as well. Arnold Rampersad has called Alexander "one of the brightest stars in our literary sky . . . a superb, invaluable commentator on the American scene." In this new collection of her essays, reviews, and interviews, Alexander again focuses on African American artistic production, particularly poetry, and the cultural contexts in which it is created and experienced.

The book's first section, "Black Arts 101," takes up the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sterling Brown, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Rita Dove (among others)

artist Romare Bearden

dancer Bill T. Jones

and dramatist August Wilson. A second section, "Black Feminist Thinking," provides engaging meditations ranging from "My Grandmother's Hair" and "A Very Short History of Black Women and Food" to essays on the legacies of Toni Cade, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan. The collection's final section, "Talking," includes interviews, a commencement address---"Black Graduation"---and the essay "Africa and the World."

Elizabeth Alexander received a B.A. from Yale University, an M.A. from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She has published four books of poems: The Venus Hottentot (1990)

Body of Life (1996)

Antebellum Dream Book (2001)

and, most recently, American Sublime (2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her play, Diva Studies, was produced at the Yale School of Drama. She is presently Professor of American and African American Studies at Yale University.

Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color
ISBN: 1590784561

WordSong. 2007

Two renowned poets tell the story of Prudence Crandall and her black students, who endured the cruelty of prejudice and hateful actions for the sake of their education. Miss Crandall faced legal proceedings for opening her school of African American women. But her young students knew that Miss Crandall had committed no crime. They knew that the real criminals were the rich white residents of Canterbury, Connecticut, who had poisoned the school's water and set fire to the schoolhouse. But hatred could not destroy their patience and compassion. From March of 1833 to September of 1834, when persecution forced the school to close, these African American women learned that they deserved an education. What they needed was the courage to go after it. Poets Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson have re-created the remarkable story of Prudence Crandall's school in this ALA Notable Children's Book, using the sonnet form with innovative style. Floyd Cooper's powerful illustrations reveal the strength and vulnerability of Miss Crandall and her students.

Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration
ISBN: 1555975453

Graywolf Press. 2009

On January 20, 2009, Elizabeth Alexander served as the fourth ever inaugural poet and a central participant in one of the most closely watched inaugurations in American history. Selected by Barack Obama, Alexander composed and delivered her original poem "Praise Song for the Day" to an audience of millions, and now the poem can be read and savored for posterity. Printed on heavy, uncoated stock, with French flaps, and a silver foil stamp, this collectible chapbook is a cherished reminder of this monumental presidential event.

Also available in Spanish.
Canto de alabanza para el da: Poema para la ceremonia inaugural del mandato de Barack Obama

Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010
ISBN: 1555976301

Graywolf Press. 2012

The first career retrospective by the award-winning poet Elizabeth Alexander, now available in paperback

We crave radiance in this austere world,
light in the spiritual darkness.
Learning is the one perfect religion,
its path correct, narrow, certain, straight.
―from "Allegiance"

Over twenty years, Elizabeth Alexander has become one of America's most exciting and important poets, and her selection as the inaugural poet by President Barack Obama confirmed her place as one of the indispensable voices of our time. Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010 gathers twenty pages of new poetry, along with generous selections from her previous work. The result is the definitive volume to date by this American master.

The Light of the World: A Memoir (Pulitzer Prize in Letters: Biography Finalist)
ISBN: 1455599867

Grand Central Publishing. 2016

"PULITZER PRIZE IN LETTERS: BIOGRAPHY FINALIST"
"NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRLE AWARDS AUTOBIOGRAPHY FINALIST"

New York Times Bestseller
First Lady Michelle Obama's Favorite Book of 2015
A New Yorker, NPR, Boston Globe, Publisher's Weekly, Newsday, Library Journal, People.com, Shelf Awareness, The Root, and St. Louis Dispact Best Book of 2015 Pick
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
An Amazon's Best Book of the Month, April 2015
IndieBound Indie Next #1 Pick, May 2015

A deeply resonant memoir for anyone who has loved and lost, from acclaimed poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Alexander.

In THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband's death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss.

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the priceless gift of human companionship. For those who have loved and lost, or for anyone who cares what matters most, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is required reading.


Awards

-- *Her work, American Sublime, was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.

-- *Inaugural recipient, Jackson Poetry Prize, $50,000. Grant by anonymous nomination, administered by Poets and Writers, Spring 2007

-- *Alphonse Fletcher, Sr., Fellowship, 2005 (inaugural year of the program)

-- *John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 2002

-- *Visiting Fellow, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, 1999-2000. Fellow, 2005-2008

-- *Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, University of Chicago, 1997

-- *Chicago Humanities Institute Fellowship, 1993-1994

-- *Fellow, Ragdale Foundation, Summer 1994

-- *NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, 1992

-- *Fellow, Corporation of Yaddo, Summers 1990 and 1991

-- *Scholar-in-Residence, Haverford College, 1990-1991

-- *2008 Connecticut Book Award for ''Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color''

-- * Named Barack Obama's Presidential Inaugural Poet - 2009