100 of My Favorite Poets For Your Survival Pack

When my sister and I were little, my grandma would pack us survival packs for the ride home from her house. Filled with food and toys and little notes, they made me feel like I could carry safety with me. As an adult, and as a not-rich mentally ill black traumatized queer person, leaving home feels close to impossible. But building and carrying my own survival pack helps me remember that even if you can’t leave, you don’t have to always be stuck.

In times of chaos, I often forget what helps me feel safe. For most of the past year, I’ve worked to remember how I’ve survived all of my worsts. In every memory, I’ve reached for a book. Being abused? Read a book. Worried about damnation from being gay? Read a book. People popped up and talked to me even though they weren’t supposed to be there? Read a book. Therapy and therapy and more therapy? Read a book, read a book, read a goddamn book. Poetry doesn’t save the world, but poetry could save you.

Poetry is my survival pack. In an interview in Guernica, Ada Limon and Matthew Zapruder discuss how poetry is vital, and Zapruder notes:

“[W]hat poetry is asking us to accept can be difficult. Our proximity to our mortality, the fragility of our existence, how close we live in every moment to nameless abysses, and the way language itself is beautifully, tragically, thrillingly insufficient… these are some of the engines that drive the poem. It’s natural to want to turn away from these things. But we have to face them, as best we can, at least sometimes. Poetry can help us do that nearly impossible work.”

The poets below are perfect for your survival pack so you can remember “safe,” and so you can always do the impossible work.


1. Elizabeth Acevedo

Who she is: Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican poet and novelist from New York City. She’s toured around the world, given TED talks and been featured on BET and Mun2. Her chapbook Beastgirl, and Other Origin Myths was published through YesYes Books and her debut novel Poet X was published by HarperCollins. Check out four of her poems, including “Dominican Superstitions,” in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, several of her poems and an interview with her in Puerto Del Sol: Black Voices and an interview with her at Locked Horn Press.

Why I love her: Acevedo is willing to share her light and love. She gave a TED talk on using her poetry to confront the violence against women (“That last question: Is this the last poem I will write about a girl like you?’ haunts my work.”) that not only diagnoses her work but demands the audience remember and honor women and their stories when they’re alive.

Find her: On Twitter.


2. A.K. Afferez

Who they are: Founder of 365daysoflesbians, a historical account of women loving women, A.K. Afferez currently blogs at Ploughshares and works at Winter Tangerine. You can read their “portrait of the poet who fell for the straight leader of the local rally for women’s rights” in Teen Vogue and “Three Hours at the Met” in Agave.

Why I love them: For the past year and a half, they have encouraged me to be my best lesbian literary self. They cheer me on through on writing projects and push me to write clearer and with more heart. Afferez’s sincerity and passion trembles at the edge of their words. As someone who started out yearning to be an astrophysicist, I’m glad they’re walking the path of a writer. I hope they continue to because I know the stars recognize themselves in the words they write.

Find them: On Twitter.


3. Brianna Albers

Who she is: Brianna Albers is the founder and editor in chief of Monstering (featured here on Autostraddle earlier this year), a literary magazine that focuses on nonbinary and women disabled poets and the reclamation of “monster.” Albers is a columnist at SMA News Today and author of Why I’m Not Where You Are. Read her “A Leper Begs The Son of God” in the Rising Phoenix Press and “Annie Scrubs Motel Floors” in Guernica.

Why I love her: She is one of the kindest most thoughtful writers and editors. Her attention to detail and mastery of words elevates every issue she’s published and every workshop she’s led.

Find her: On Twitter.


4. Hala Alyan

Who she is: Hala Alyan is an award-winning Palestinian-American poet, novelist and clinical psychologist who lives in Brookland with her husband. She is the author of three poetry books: Hijra, Four Cities, and Atrium and a novel, Salt Houses. Read four poems including “I’m Not Speaking First” in the Rumpus.

Why I love her: Her poems feel like essentials to declarations of love.

Find her: On Twitter.


5. Justice Ameer

Who xe are: A black genderfluid and transfeminine poet and activist, Ameer has represented Brown University at College Unions Poetry Slam Invitationals and represented Providence at the Individual World Poetry Slam. Xe are working on their debut collection.

Why I love xem: After the Pulse shooting, I didn’t know how to feel aside from terrified. I didn’t want to stay stuck and xyr’s poem “Night Divine” in Glass Poetry’s Pulsamos: LGBTQ Poets of Color Respond to the Pulse Night Club Shooting gave me permission to move forward in my fear. Xe has me question the prisons I’ve locked myself into. Xyr’s work gives me the key to dismantling them and encouraging others to do the same.

Find xem: On Paypal.


6. Moss Angel Witchmonster

Who she is: Moss Angel is a poet, tattoist and designer in Portland, Oregon (previously featured on Autostraddle under the name Sara June Woods). Read an interview with her in Clash, her poem “Dear Juniper” in Guernica, and two Poems from Sea Witch I in The Fanzine.

Why I love her: I read ~yr various hairlessnesses~ as a recommendation from Dalton Day. I didn’t know art could feel like my whole world animated with colors three shades darker than what I’m used to. She has a way of creating that gives you permission to be different for a little while. And as you read more and more of her poetry, you can stretch that little while into a life.

Find her: On Twitter.


7. manuel arturo abreu

Who they are: manuel arturo abreu is a poet and artist from Santo Domingo and the Bronx creating in Portland. They co-facilitate a free pop-up school in Portland called home school. You can get their book, List of Consonants and transtrender now. Read three of their poems, including “If I Could Vote, I’d Vote For Cardi B,” in the Believer, “Butching it up + dumbing it down: Ser Serpas in conversation on shitty childhoods, respectability + erasure” in AQNB, and three poems in the 2015 trans issue of The Offing.

Why I love them: abreu writes short punching poetry that leaves me dizzy. Sometimes I mistake short poetry for easy reading. Sometimes I forget that the shorter the line, the more weight each word has to carry. abreu reminds me of this lesson often.

Find them: On Twitter.


8. Fatimah Asghar

Who she is: Fatimah Asghar is a writer and co-creator of Brown Girls, a webseries that follows two WOC best friends as they try to survive their midtwenties that was picked up earlier this year by HBO. Asghar is a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Poetry Fellow, Fulbright Fellow and member of Dark Noise Collective. She’s written a sold-out chapbook, After, and her full-length debut, If They Come For Us: Poems, will be released through One World/Random House this year.

Why I love her: I sat on my bedroom floor and read After in an afternoon. I didn’t know you could put the truth down like this, put it in a place where it doesn’t hurt you over and over again. I met her at an AWP offsite event and though my friend and I tried to look cool, I know I failed. Because the power-and-universe-contained-within-a-body-feeling doesn’t disappear once Asghar steps down from the stage. She carries that magic with her.


9. aziza barnes

Who they are: aziza barnes is a co-host of The Poetry Gods (with Jose Olivarez and Jon Sands), a poetry editor of Kinfolk Quarterly, an MFA candidate at the University of Mississippi, and the winner of the 2015 Pamet River Prize. They were born in Los Angeles, currently live in Oxford, Mississippi, and co-founded the Conversation Literary Festival. Their chapbook me Aunt Jemima and the nailgun is available through Button Poetry. You can also read two of their poems and an interview between them and Luther Hughes in the Shade Journal, read their piece “A Queer Black Poet’s Quest for Liberation” in Vice, and watch “My Dad Asks, ‘How Come Black Folk Can’t Just Write About Flowers?’” at Button Poetry.

Why I love them: After hearing them read from i be, but i ain’t at an AWP offsite reading, I got to meet them and hug them, and even being around their honesty and vulnerability for five minutes made me want to exude the same.

Find them: On Twitter.


10. Yasmin Belkhyr

Who she is: Yasmin Belkhyr is the founder and editor-in-chief of Winter Tangerine, a literary magazine that focuses on uplifting marginalized voices, and Honeysuckle Press, a literary press committed to doing the same. Belkyhr is author of Bone Light, through the African Poetry Series and Akashic Books. You can read five of her poems, including “Ridgewood Parks,” in PANK.

Why I love her: Belkhyr sees the potential in others, cultivates their talent and brings them into spaces where they can be properly recognized and lauded. It’s a gift that not many have and that even fewer use for the good of the community, but Belkhyr does both.

Find her: On Twitter.


11. Mahogany L. Browne

Who she is: Mahogany L. Browne is a writer, activist, curator and educator. A Cave Canem fellow, Browne is an alum of Poets House and Serenbe Focus and nominee for an NAACP Award for Outstanding Literary Works. She is founder of Women Writers of Color Reading Room, publisher of Penmanship Books, an Urban Word NYC artistic director, the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe Friday Night Slam curator and the director of [email protected] Programming. She is co-editor of the forthcoming The BreakBeat Poets vol. 2: Black Girl Magic anthology and is author of several books and the chapbook Kissing Caskets.

Why I love her: I wish I could’ve grown up with this poetry. With black girl magic, I would’ve comforted myself, lullabied myself to sleep every night to her words. I would’ve held them in my fist instead of the mirror I tried to break when I saw my reflection and it didn’t white back. I wish I had Browne’s poetry years and years ago but I’m so glad that other black girls have it now.

Find her: On Twitter.


12. Lauren Bullock

Who she is: Lauren Bullock is the poetry editor of Freezeray Poetry and a contributing writer to BlackNerdProblems. She works with youth through Words, Beats, and Life, a nonprofit that transforms lives and communities through hip-hop, and also hosts poetry events with Busboys and Poets.

Why I love her: When I heard “How Loud Do I Forgive Myself Before It’s Just Another Scream?” a year ago, my heart stopped. Bullock’s work always pulls me towards my bravest self.

Find her: On Twitter.


13. Anne Carson

Who she is: Anne Carson is a Canadian poet, essayist and translator famous for her verse novel Autobiography of Red, a modern tale following Herakles and Geryon. Read her “The Glass Essay” at the Poetry Foundation.

Why I love her: One of my best friends surprised me with Autobiography of Red in the fall. I had talked about how much I loved Carson, even though I knew of her only in spurts. I read Autobiography of Red in less than a day. I dreamt of red wings bursting through my back, my spine breaking and repairing and breaking from the glory of it. I can’t claim to care for mythology as much as I want to. I can’t even say I fully understand it. But Carson writes with something fiercer than love when it comes to her subjects. It’s like she scoops a place in their center and writes them true from the inside out. I can’t help but look away from a truth unfolding like that. Doesn’t matter how far I look though, her words always find a way to look back.

Find her: On Facebook.


14. Imani Cezanne

Who she is: Imani Cezanne is a community organizer, poet, workshop facilitator, and slam coach from San Diego. The member of three National Poetry Slam teams across four years (placing in the top six in the last three years), Cezanne has performed on TVOne’s Verses and Flow. As founding president of San Francsico State Univeristy’s first poetry centered organization, S.P.E.A.K. (Spoken Poetry Expressed by All Kinds), Cezanne has facilitated workshops and brought nationally-recognized poets to S.P.E.A.K. as well as coached SFSU’s first poetry slam team to fifth in the nation at the 2017 College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. Read and listen to #flyingwhileblack on Split This Rock.

Why I love her: I’ve seen Imani perform at Busboys & Poets twice, once as competiting for a spot on the Beltway Poetry Slam team and the other as host at Busboys and Poets, and I’m so excited every time she steps on stage to speak. I keep talking about how pumped I am for Black Panther and the black joy I feel for that movie is the same black joy I feel whenever I interact with Cezanne’s work. From laughing at Lemonade references during her hosting to cheering her on when performing “Protest”, Cezanne’s work makes me thankful to be alive in this black body.

Find her: On Twitter.


15. Kristin Chang

Who she is: Kristin Chang is a college student who works for Winter Tangerine and is a former freelance writer for Teen Vogue. Her debut collection Past Lives, Future Bodies is forthcoming this fall from Black Lawrence Press. Read three of her poems, including “DEFENSE MECHANISMS,” in The Wanderer.

Why I love her: Chang makes language dance. I read one of her drafts in a poetry workshop and was floored by the mastery she possesses. Her poetry sits up and talks to you. It holds you back from running out the door even though you’re late because you can’t end on the tail ends of conversation with them. I don’t cry but the results of the 2016 election made me wish I did. Yes. Poetry did a series of poetry responses to the election called #NotTrump. Chang’s poem “texts from my mother, post-election” was one of the ones that got me to take in the first shuddering breath before giving myself space to break. Every time I come across her work, I save it for the end of the day because I need the dark to concentrate, the dark for permission to feel everything I never knew poetry could make me feel.

Find her: On Twitter.


16. M.K. Chavez

Who she is: MK Chavez is a Latinx Oakland-based writer and a Squaw Valley Writers Conference, Antioch Writers Workshop, and VONA fellow. She is co-founder and curator of Lyrics & Dirges and co-director of the Berkley Poetry Festival. She is the author of Mothermorphosis and Dear Animal,, her first full-length poetry collection, among others. Read Three Poems in Rivet Journal.

Why I love her: In her interview with Cosmonauts Avenue, Cahvez explains the humor and surrealism in her work: “So this kind of humor, it’s the laughter of resistance.” This, alongside her explanation that art is a gift in that in can allow us to get to the other side of trauma, are two of the more important lessons I’ve learned recently. Her work proves that the iamgination is still very much a part of reality and that seeing things differently from other people doesn’t make you wrong about what you’re seeing, that sometimes, it just means that you’re looking at it more truthfully.

Find her: On Twitter.


17. Franny Choi

Who she is: Franny Choi is a writer, performer, teaching artist and member of Dark Noise Collective. She has received fellowships from Kundiman and Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, was co-director of the Providence Poetry Slam, has received awards from the Poetry Foundation and the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, and has been a finalist in several poetry slams, including National Poetry, the Individual World Poetry Slam and Women of the World Poetry Slam. Choi is the author of two books, an MFA candidate at University of Michigan’s Helen Zell’s Writer Program and co-host of the podcast VS with Danez Smith. You can read and listen to her “Introduction to Quantum Theory” in the Adroit Journal, watch “Whiteness Walks Into A Bar” at Button Poetry and read more about her at PBS.

Why I love her: Choi writes and performs with an unmatched urgency and command. I love stepping into a poem and feeling the floor disappear from under me three lines in. Her work makes me so dizzy that by the end of it all I don’t know which way is up, or if there is an up. Choi’s work makes me question whether anything I know ever stays put. Her work teaches me that the only one I can trust in the confusion is me. That I’m the one I came to the poem with and the only one who will still walk away by the end of it.

Find her: On Twitter.


18. Lucille Clifton

Who she is: Lucille Clifton is a black American poet from Buffalo, New York. She was twice nominated for the Pulitzer in poetry and was the poet laureate of Maryland.

Why I love her: Clifton’s poem “won’t come you celebrate with me” is one of those poems that built my heart. When I first started therapy, one of the things I told my therapist was, “I’m just trying not to die.” It feels like that bar is so low, because it fucking is. You don’t feel the weight of that until you talk to people who care for you who aren’t queer, black and mentally ill. But every moment I’m not dead is cause for celebration. Clifton allows me to make space for this every time I breathe.

Find her legacy page: On Facebook.


19. Karla Cordero

Who she is: Karla Cordero is an editor of SpitJournal, and recipient of the 2015 Loft Literary Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship. You can get her first book, Grasshoppers Before Gods through Dancing Girl Press. Read “a history of walls” in Tinderbox.

Why I love her: I wish you all could have been in the audience when Karla performed at Pink Door in 2015. There was a moment, during a poem about domestic abuse, when she sneered as she read a line with clear intention even though the language would’ve tripped up most. The moment she sneered in her performance, my heart was like: She makes sense to me in a way few have ever done. I’m gonna follow her work forever. She doesn’t just give great work, she supports it too, making sure that other people are given room for their voices if they choose to speak.

Find her: On Facebook.


20. Jasmine Cui

Who she is: Co-editor-in-chief of the Ellis Review, Cui is a 2018 YoungArts finalist in creative nonfiction and received an honorable mention in poetry from YoungArts 2018.

Why I love her: We met last year through the Blueshift Journal’s Speakeasy Project. We’re both anxious people who cannot handle phone calls but were willing to suffer that anxiety to learn from Christopher Soto. We talked to each other throughout the whole program and she is one of the people who reminds me how often words can be a gift. She introduced me to Kaveh Akbar’s poetry when she sent me Portrait of the Alcoholic, and couldn’t have known would be help me time and time again as I tried to heal. Her poem “Out of Water” shows that if she is the future of poetry, then the future will stun us with its brilliance.

Find her: On Twitter.


21. Kai Davis

Who she is: Kai Davis is a Philadelphia writer, performer and educator. She’s a member of The Philly Pigeon Collective, a group of poets that host award-winning poetry slams in Philadelphia, and is the 2011 Brave New Voices Champion and 2016 College Union Poetry Slam Invitational winner. She is also the author of the now sold-out, Black Chronicle. Listen to her “Ain’t I A Woman” on Slamfind.

Why I love her: Her poem “Homicidal Revolution” shed light on a lot of dark places I kept secret: sexuality, violence, abandonment, and self-harm, and all through the voice of a black woman.

Find her: On Twitter.


22. Natalie Diaz

Who she is: Natalie Diaz is Mojave, an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian tribe, and works with the last remaining speakers at Fort Mojave to revitalize their language. A Lannan Literary fellow, Native Arts Council Foundation Artist fellow, and 2015 Hodder fellow, Diaz’s first poetry collection, When My Brother Was An Aztec was published through Copper Canyon Press. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Arizona State University and teaches at Princeton University, NYU, and the Institute of American Indian Arts Low Rez MFA program. You can read her poem “Catching Copper” at Buzzfeed.

Why I love her: I have a line from her poem “Prayers or Oubilettes” — “The world has tired of tears. / We weep owls now. They live longer. / They know their way in the dark.” — saved to my Trauma Files, a folder where I keep things that help me rage and heal. This poem gives my grief and other unnameable feelings a body to inhabit. It gives them permission to move.

Find her: On Twitter.


23. jayy dodd

Who they are: jayy dodd is a blxk trans feminine question mark, writer and artist. They are author of three books: [sugar] in the tank, Mannish Tongues, and The Black Condition ft. Narcissus, forthcoming from Siren Song/CCM Press. A Pushcart Prize nominee, they co-edited Bettering American Poetry and are a 2016 Lambda Literary Poetry Fellow. Read two of their poems in DREGINALD.

Why I love them: jayy puts in that work. That bxtch-we’re-gonna-get-free-and-this-is-how work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled across their words during a depressive episode and been like, “Right, this shit is hard but it’s survivable and I gotta make sure I survive this.” I mean, isn’t that the whole point of creating? To say I’m here in spite of and make room enough for others to claim the same?

Find them: On Twitter.


24. Chanel Dupree

Who she is: Chanel Dupree is a poet, playwright, and screenwriter currently working on Shoulders, a dramedy about a black woman’s difficult relationship with her mother and finding healing through black friendships.

Why I love her: I met Chanel at Pink Door in 2015, where she performed “Delusions,” which I’d watched at least 15 times on YouTube. The world melted away during her performance. We talk about how black women will save the world, but Chanel reminds me that’s not true: Black women will save themselves and if we’re lucky, they’ll take us along for the ride.

Find her: On Twitter.


25. Uma Dwivedi

Who they are: Uma Dwivedi is an artist and poet working for Winter Tangerine. A 2017 Write Bloody chapbook dinalist, their chapbook They Named Her Goddess is forthcoming from dancing girl press. Check out some of their art on Instagram or listen to their very gay poem.

Why I love them: I worked with Uma during a Winter Tangerine workshop and they are one of best people I know. They are open and exact and intense in all their work and I’m always excited to see what they share next.

Find them:: On Twitter.


Next page for #26-#50

Pages: 1 2 3 4 See entire article on one page

Alexis Smithers (Lex Lee) is a black nonbinary person creating on the East Coast. They've volunteered for Winter Tangerine and currently are a Web Development Student at Bloc. A 2015 Pink Door Fellow & 2016 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer, you can find more of their work on their website and listen to them scream about poetry & other interests on Twitter.

Alexis has written 20 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. Wow, this looks wonderful! Just a few weeks or so ago, I was talking with some friends in grad school about how alongside the research I am doing for my own academic project, which is focused on the 16th and 17th centuries, I have ended up reading a lot chicana literature, women poets of color, etc. to help keep my spirits up in these dark times and difficult spaces. That evening I suggested that we compile a sort of “survival syllabus” of all the people we have read in parallel to our regular projects. I am excited to see your take on a similar idea, Alexis (so much so that I am leaving this comment after only page 1), and to get to know some poets I haven’t read yet.

  2. This list is going to take me a while to get through!
    In the meantime, I thought I’d share this:
    I’ve been in love with this poem for a few weeks, now.
    It certainly gives grocery shopping a whole new meaning, and well it makes me want to hug her and hug myself,too.

  3. Although I am not a connoisseur of poetry, I would like to put Daphne Gottlieb on your (or anyone’s) radar. She came to my Women’s Studies class (way back in 2002) and read us her poems and I have been smitten ever since. Feminine Protection will forever be my favorite, although 15 Ways to Stay Alive is a close second.

      • Yaaaay! I basically stalked her throughout college, but she was very nice about it lol. BTW, if you ever read the short story Bette Williams wrote for Daphne’s book Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions, the “small women’s college” where they met is my college, Mills, and I was at the reading that night. I feel semi-famous 🙂

          • Awww too bad you didn’t apply! We would have been in college together! They actually gave me a partial scholarship without me asking for it, almost a 50% reduction in tuition. It was still more than a UC or State, but having a guarantee of completing in 4 years (or less, like I was able to do) made up for it. They are actually going to be REDUCING tuition next year in order to make it more affordable. I love my alma mater 🙂

  4. This is EXTRAORDINARY thank you Alexis!!!

    PS Dear other readers, consider joining A+ if you haven’t! It starts at $2.50/mo. AS Staff are busy making killer content like this so that’s why I’m commenting about it 🙂

    • I love Tarfia Faizullah, 100 Bells is one of the poems that absolutely changed me. Just didn’t feel comfortable because I haven’t read enough of her books yet, and this is definitely more of a starter pack not a full list!

  5. Thank you so much for this! One of my goals for this year is to consume more healing media, and poetry is great for that probably because it’s one of the most instinctive art forms, so this is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

    I can’t see 26-50 and am not sure if the link’s not working or it’s just not working yet? If she’s not on the second part of your list, I would recommend Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Her collection Bodymap focuses on her experiences as a disabled queer woman of colour and is so beautiful.

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