Carolyn M. Rodgers dies at 69; grappled with issues of African American identity

Carolyn M. Rodgers, who grappled with issues of African American identity and culture in poems that took first flight during the vibrant Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s, has died. She was 69.

Rodgers died of cancer April 2 in hospice care at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, said her sister, Nina R. Gordon.

As a young woman on Chicago’s South Side, Rodgers studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks and at workshops put together by the Organization of Black American Culture, a noted literary collective.

She quickly became recognized for poetry that delved into the problems and challenges facing African-American women while ultimately celebrating women’s ability to overcome.


Her poetry was collected in volumes including “Paper Soul,” “Songs of a Black Bird” and “How I Got Ovah.”

“Carolyn Rodgers was one of the finest poets to come out of the Black Arts Movement,” said Haki Madhubuti, a professor, publisher and poet. He was referring to the artistic corollary to the Black Power movement of the 1960s that was led by writers and poets, including Amiri Baraka, and put forth a fresh voice for newly militant African Americans.

In a free-flowing, vernacular style, poems such as “Some of Me Beauty” and “Poem for Some Black Women” offered visceral examinations of her “revolutionary” identity, relationships and loneliness.

“Her work always positions black women in particular as strong and not as victims but as survivors,” said Quraysh Ali Lansana, director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing at Chicago State University, where he is also an associate professor of English.


Rodgers also wrote short stories and was an accomplished critic and essayist who produced well-regarded explorations of the new wave of African American poetry in publications like Negro Digest/Black World.

Rodgers was born in Chicago in 1940 and grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood. Her father was a welder, her mother a homemaker and both were readers who encouraged in their children an early love of books.

Rodgers went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Chicago’s Roosevelt University in 1965 and a master’s from the University of Chicago in 1980, her sister said.

Her teaching career included stops at Malcolm X and Harold Washington colleges in Chicago, and she also lectured at universities including Fisk and Emory.


Besides Gordon, Rodgers is survived by her 99-year-old mother, Bazella Rodgers, and another sister, Gloria V. Rodgers.