D.C. Loses Dolores Kendrick, “First Lady of Poetry”

Washington’s Poet Laureate Dies at 90

by: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO
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The District of Columbia is mourning the death of Dolores Kendrick, its poet laureate for nearly two decades. Kendrick died Nov. 7 at her D.C. home at age 90.

Dolores Kendrick, Washington’s Poet Laureate. (Photo/loc.gov)

“This week, our city lost a poet, a trailblazer, and a tremendous source of inspiration – a woman who began her career as an educator and, through her poetry and work in the community, never really stopped teaching,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement.

Kendrick, dubbed the “first lady of poetry,” was born and raised in segregated Washington, D.C. She received her teaching certificate from the historically Black Miner Teachers College and her Master of Arts degree from Georgetown University, according to The Poetry Foundation.

She started her teaching career in the D.C. public school system, where she helped found the School Without Walls.

Following that, she taught for two decades at Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious boarding school in New Hampshire. There she became the first Vira I. Heinz professor emerita, according to the foundation.

Kendrick, appointed D.C.’s poet laureate in 1999, received many awards for her writing.

She won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1990 for “The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women.” An adaptation of the book for the stage snagged the 1997 New York New Playwrights Award.

She also earned a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the George Kent Award for Literature, according to the U.S. Library of Congress.

She also wrote a collection of poems about homeless women called “Why the Woman Is Singing on the Corner: A Verse Narrative.”

Kendrick worked for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, developing programs for high school and college students and for established and emerging poets, according to the foundation.

Meanwhile, The National Visionary Leadership Project has recognized Kendrick’s contributions to art and public life, and in 2002 celebrated her Kendrick’s work at the Kennedy Center, according to the foundation.

Kendrick made her mark across the city in tangible ways as well. A sculpture outside of the NoMa/Gallaudet Metro Station called “Journeys” features Kendrick’s poem of the same name.

Another sculpture downtown at 9th and G streets Northwest also includes her poetry.

“Throughout her tenure as poet laureate, Dolores worked on a variety of programs to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of poetry, and through her enduring work, she will continue to influence and inspire Washingtonians young and old,” Bowser said in her statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her friends, family, and loved ones.”

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