Mari Evans was an African-American poet, writer, and dramatist associated with the Black Arts Movement. Evans received grants and awards including a lifetime achievement award from the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation, and her poetry is known for its lyrical simplicity and the directness of its themes.
Evans was born in Toledo, Ohio. Her mother died when Evans was 10 years old. She was subsequently encouraged in her writing by her father, as she recalls in her essay “My Father’s Passage” (1984). She attended local public schools before going on to the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design in 1939 but left without a degree.
She later began a series of teaching appointments in American universities in 1969. During 1969–70, she served as writer in residence at Indiana University-Purdue, where she taught courses in African-American Literature. The next year, she accepted a position as an assistant professor and writer-in-residence at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she taught until 1978.
Although her most renowned book of poetry, I Am a Black Woman, was published in 1970, many of her poems preceded the Black Arts Movement, while coinciding with the Black Arts poets’ messages of Black cultural, psychological, and economic liberation. As a scholar, she also wrote non-fiction and edited Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation (Doubleday, 1984), an important and timely critical anthology devoted to the work of fifteen writers. Mari Evans died on March 10, 2017, she was 97.
I Am a Black Woman
By Mari Evans
I am a black woman
the music of my song
some sweet arpeggio of tears
is written in a minor key
can be heard humming in the night
Can be heard
in the night
I saw my mate leap screaming to the sea
and I/with these hands/cupped the lifebreath
from my issue in the canebrake
I lost Nat’s swinging body in a rain of tears
and heard my son scream all the way from Anzio
for Peace he never knew….I
learned Da Nang and Pork Chop Hill
Now my nostrils know the gas
and these trigger tire/d fingers
seek the softness in my warrior’s beard
I am a black woman
tall as a cypress
beyond all definition still
on me and be