Poetry News

Rest in Peace, Dolores Kendrick (1927–2017)

By Harriet Staff
Dolores Kendrick

Poet, former DC poet laureate, and Phillips Exeter Academy instructor Dolores Kendrick passed away this week at the age of 90. Kendrick penned five books of poetry and, as her obituary in the Washington Post notes, "Ms. Kendrick was little known outside of Washington and the classrooms of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where for 21 years she taught students not to 'kill' poems by overanalyzing them." From there: 

Yet in five books of lyrical, frequently conversational poetry, she established herself as what Joanne Gabbin, founder of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University, described as “the poet’s poet”: a friend and favorite of African American writers such as Michael S. Harper, Rita Dove and James Baldwin, with whom she dined in Paris and hosted at Exeter.

“Dolores Kendrick is one of the important writers of our times,” another friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, told the Washington Times in 1999. “Her work is careful, accessible, warmly aggressive. She is a passionate poet, but always manages control, avoiding sloppy emotion.”

As Ms. Kendrick put it, her writing was akin to “concentrated orange juice” — an occasionally tart distillation of argument and emotion that she began cultivating as a teenager, when a teacher at Dunbar High School in Washington criticized her prose style as flowery and excessive.

Her reputation rested largely on “The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women,” a 1989 volume that won the Anisfield-Wolfe Award for books that address racism or the diversity of human cultures. Written while Ms. Kendrick was teaching at Exeter, consumed by a history of black women in America and suffering a bout of insomnia, the book chronicled 34 slave women from the era of the Middle Passage to the years after the Civil War.

Learn more about Ms. Kendrick's life and legacy at the Washington Post.

Originally Published: November 10th, 2017