“I put the poem on paper by sense and touch, much like a blind person fumbling in the dark for light.”
A leading member of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Rodgers, was born in Hyde Park and lived in Chicago most of her life, earning her bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University and her masters from the University of Chicago, and later teaching at Columbia College, Malcolm X Community College and Harold Washington College. Her real writing education, though, was in the writing workshops of the arts collection the Organization of Black American Culture. Rodgers, a student of Gwendolyn Brooks, read many of her poems at coffeehouses that served as the heart of the Black Arts Movement. She featured the poet as an individual strident and feminist, and a society in conflict. She wrote of relationships between mother-daughter and black men and women, street life, identity, love, and over the course of her career explored shifting values that included a concern with religion. She experimented in form as well as theme. Following the success of Paper Soul, Rodgers received the first Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Fund Award (1968); after the publication of Songs of a Blackbird, she was given the Poet Laureate Award from the Society of Midland Authors (1970; How I Got Ovah: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award (1976). Rodgers also received a National Endowment of the Arts award. She helped found Third World Press and began Eden Press with a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and worked as a social worker.