Dolores Kendrick, Poet Laureate
What is a Poet Laureate? D.C. has one? Yep. Her name is Dolores Kendrick and she is a brilliant writer and an outspoken activist.
So, What is a Poet Laureate?
While many American poets lead interesting lives, very few poets ever achieve the title of Poet Laureate. The title itself, like all good bureaucratic things, comes from the Classical periods of ancient Greece and Rome. Poets and heroes of the day donned crowns of laurel and were honored at grand ceremonies.
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Latin Poet Ovid donning his fashionable laurel crown[/caption]
The tradition carried on through the Medieval period and the sophisticated scholars of Renaissance Europe soon mimicked it. During the Renaissance, the laurel was given to doctoral candidates and successful scholars; thus, we arrive at the definition we know today. A laureate is simply someone who has been honored for a great intellectual or creative achievement.
Many countries today have Poet Laureates, as do some states and even cities or districts like D.C.. The title of Laureate is a special honor that comes with the responsibility of composing or reciting poetry at certain functions or events. With such a respectable title also comes a social responsibility to address important social or political issues, as D.C.’s Poet Laureate does with humility and passion.
Dolores Kendrick: D.C. Local and Educator
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Dolores Kendrick photographed for the collection "Illuminaries"[/caption]
Kendrick was born in the District of Columbia in 1927. The racially segregated D.C that she experienced as a young black woman living in LeDroit Park was drastically different than the diverse and vibrant city we know today.
In a 2010 interview Kendrick reflected on her experience as black person in segregated D.C.. She said, “whatever you’re going to be, whatever profession you chose, you had to be twice as good as the white person. Twice as much was expected of you and you had to be very good at what you did. You never started something you didn’t finish... never made excuses for yourself. You stood up for what you believed in.” She says she never once felt lesser than anyone else despite the fact that others may have viewed her that way.
To this day Kendrick testifies to the excellence of the public, segregated school system where she received her education. After graduating from the reputable Dunbar High School, Kendrick received a teaching certification from the historic Miner Teacher’s College. She went on to receive a Masters from Georgetown University. She carried on this legacy of educational excellence and taught in D.C. public schools for a number of years. Kendrick also helped found the School Without Walls.
Kendrick believes that the connections between poetry and communities are increasingly important, and she has been a vocal advocate for rejuvenating poetry and creative writing curriculums in public schools. Through programs like Poet-in-Progress and the Young Champion Poets Program, Kendrick remains involved in poetry education throughout D.C.. However, Kendrick has left her mark, quite literally, across the city.
Kendrick’s Poetry & Her Mark on Washington
Dolores Kendrick’s most famous work is her 1989 collection of poems titled “The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women.” "The Women of Plums" was also recently adapted into a stage play. The DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities presented the program on July 21, 2016 at the Historic Lincoln Theatre. Her other collections include "Through the Ceiling" (1975), "Now Is the Thing to Praise" (1984), and "Why the Woman is Singing on the Corner: A Verse Narrative" (2001).
Below is a look at the stage adaption of "The Women of Plums."
On various sculptures across downtown, Kendrick's mark is quite evident. This includes the sculpture “Journeys,” found outside the NoMA-Gallaudet Metro station, featuring Kendrick's poem of the same name.
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"Go slowly/in taking/the steps,/and fast/when counting/stars."[/caption]
This colorful sculpture on 9th and G street Northwest also features her poetry.
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We are flesh/ and blood and steel and skin/ struggling within/ a linear light/ toward one heartbeat/ that forges/ a sacred space/ an entrance/ to our fragile / dreams that rise / upon a muscle / of memory / and wind.[/caption]
Her latest work, Rainbow on Fire, is a collection of previous poems and reflections on her evolution as a poet, signifying the ushering in of a new era for poetry in the District.
Have you read any of Kendrick's work? Which of her poems is your favorite? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!