Black, Queer, Trans, and Millennial:  A New Generation of American Poetry: Part I

This series is divided into three sections. I decided to narrow my focus from other POC poetic communities, not to disparage those communities, but to address their own rich poetic work at another time possibly. Contemporary developments influenced each of these communities in American culture and cannot be discretely cordoned off as outliers. They all share in the national literary narrative of America’s multicultural identity.

In each section, I describe the history of this unique millennial generation. I wanted to look at specific historical factors and literary organizations which may have influenced and nurtured this group. Secondly, I wanted to understand how ideas such as “queer,” “non-binary,” “intersectionality,” and “institutional racism” might have been discussed in the classrooms or the communities of these writers during their formative years. Third I wanted to review the small presses and the publishing industry and how these publishers began to champion poetry by POC queer and trans poets, especially as evidenced by the sheer number of titles released in 2020 through 2023. And finally, I have tried, in a semi-bibliographic fashion, to list various poets and books I found of particular significance. In all cases, I think the work of these American poets has added dramatically to our culture

PART 1         

In 1996 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady started the Cave Canem Foundation “to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape.” On its website, it states:

Cave Canem’s programs and publications enlarge the American literary canon; democratize archives; and expand for students, aspiring poets and readers the notion of what’s possible and valuable in a poem. In Cave Canem, poets of color find productive space for writing without fear of censure or the need to defend subject matter or language—an intellectual and physical site where they validate their own and their peers’ voices and deeply know that s/he is not “the only one.”

Since its founding, American poetry has markedly changed, where poets of color (POC) have slowly found more agency. Through the Cave Canem Writers Workshops Graduate Fellows program and other Foundation efforts, a younger generation of POC poets was nurtured. Simultaneously, in conjunction with the changing demographics of America, MFA Writing Programs around the country began to accept more students of color and to expand the diversity of their faculties. The Millennial generation, now defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, experienced the rise of the genderqueer movement in the late nineties and early 2000s. The genderqueer movement coincided in academia with newer theories and more advanced studies of race, class, gender, and sex. At the same time, POC scholars looking at the American legal system developed such concepts and methodologies as “critical race theory,” “intersectionality,” and “institutionalized racism.” 

The term “genderqueer” first appeared in the 1980s in various queer zines. It was a precursor term to “non-binary” and essentially applied to any individual who was gender nonconforming. Genderqueer in the 1990s, according to Wikipedia, was taken up by political activists as an umbrella term to refer to anyone “perceived to transcend or diverge from traditional distinctions of gender, regardless of their gender identity.”  

KC Clements, in their 2017 article “What Does It Mean to Identify as Genderqueer?” writes: 

A “queer” gender may fall outside of, fall in between, or fluctuate among the binary gender categories of man and woman. People who are genderqueer often experience their gender as fluid, meaning it can shift and change at any given time. Genderqueer can also describe a position of questioning one’s gender identity during a particular period of time or in an ongoing way.

On the “Gender Queer and Non-Binary” website (, I found the following information: “Riki Anne Wilchins, activist and founder of GenderPAC (Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, active 1995-2009) . . . wrote in the spring 1995 newsletter of “Transexual Menace, In Your Face”:

The fight against gender oppression has been joined for centuries, perhaps millennia. What’s new today is that it’s moving into the arena at open political activism. And nope, this is not just one more civil rights struggle for one more narrowly-defined minority. It’s about all of us who are genderqueer: diesel dykes and stone butches, leatherqueens and radical fairies, nelly fags, crossdressers, intersexed, transsexuals, transvestites, transgendered, transgressively gendered, and those of us whose gender expressions are so complex they haven’t even been named yet. Maybe us genderqueers feel it most keenly because it hits us each time we walk out the front door openly and proudly.

   Additionally, a 1995 collection of writings on critical race theory introduced by Cornel West brought greater attention to this field of inquiry. Critical Race Theory emerged in the 1970s and would influence a generation of Black scholars and activists. Wikipedia mentions that: “…in 2021, Khiara Bridges, a law professor and author of the textbook ‘Critical Race Theory: A Primer,’ defined critical race theory as an ‘intellectual movement,’ a ‘body of scholarship,’ and an ‘analytical toolset for interrogating the relationship between law and racial inequality.'” 

In 1989 the Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the concept of “intersectionality.” In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term’s defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

And it’s further described by Adia Harvey Wingfield, “intersectionality [is] the idea that when it comes to thinking about how inequalities persist, categories like gender, race, and class are best understood as overlapping and mutually constitutive rather than isolated and distinct.”

Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton would be the first to use CRT in 1967. Eventually, it became used interchangeably with “systemic racism.” In the mid-1990s, this was an essential subject for Black political discourse. Wikipedia states: “Institutional racism is where race causes a different level of access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society.

When in 2007, the Lambda Literary organization founded the Writer’s Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, a generation of queer POC Millennials were ready to take up residency and study in advanced writing workshops to receive “sophisticated instruction” in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young adult fiction, and playwriting from diverse literary mentors.