A poetry collection that reflects on intimate aspects of Black history, culture, and identity, revealing an uncommon gaze on working-class Philadelphia from the 1960s to the present day

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Product Code: 9327
ISBN: 9780807008072
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Beacon Press
Pages: 160
Published Date: 04/02/2024
Availability: Not currently available.
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Price: $18.00

In 55 poems, Migration Letters straddles the personal and public with particular, photorealistic detail to identify what, over time, creating a home creates in ourselves. Drawn from her experiences of being born in Philadelphia into a Black family and a Black culture transported from the American South by the Great Migration, M. Nzadi Keita’s poetry sparks a profoundly hybrid gaze of the visual and the sensory. Her lyrical fragments and sustained narrative plunge into the unsung aspects of Black culture and explore how Black Americans journey toward joy.

Propelled by the conditions that motivated her family’s migration north, the poems pull heavily from Keita’s place in her family, communities, and the world at large. They testify to her time and circumstances growing up Black in Philadelphia on the periphery of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Each poem builds upon an inheritance of voices: a panoramic perspective of an Easter Sunday service in a Black church gives way to an account of psychic violence in a newly integrated school; the collective voices of a beauty salon’s patrons fragment into memories of neighborhoods in North Philadelphia that have faded over time.

Migration Letters strives to tell a story about Black people that radiates across generations and testifies to a world that, as Lucille Clifton wrote, “has tried to kill [us] and has failed.” They interrogate how one’s present begins in the past, what we gain from barriers and boundaries, and what notions of progress energize our journey forward. Keita’s poems intimately reveal how Black culture can be inherited and built upon complex relationships where love and pain are inextricably linked.


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Contents

THE IDEA OF ANCESTRY
102.
[Far]
50.
[Migration Letter]
153.
[Fathers]
27.
[night shift/day shift]
45.
[Libations for the One Hundred Years of Gwendolyn Brooks]
to your heart
to your journey
173.
[Migration Letter]
69.
[Mentor as a young woman: tanka for Sonia Sanchez]
54.
[A House Full]
195.
[Migration Letter]
7.
[Our Day Will Come]
Seasons
Christening
Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier said what you couldn’t say.

AN AGONY. AS NOW.
129.
[Letters To Eleanor]
34.
[1963]
70.
[white lie]
205.
[Not Your Philadelphia: August, 1964]
107.
[Ebony Magazine]
War
To the photographers
Diaspora
156.
[Toni Morrison Knows]
74.
[16th and Erie]
105.
[by 1989]
9.
[Letter to the Soul Singers: Lou Rawls,
Aretha Franklin, Koko Taylor, Ruth Brown,
Brook Benton, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Otis Redding
& James The-Godfather-of-Soul Brown]

THAT WE HEAD TOWARD
111.
[Letters to Black Bodies]
Integrated Morning
Integrated Afternoon
Blue Plastic Clothesline
“Fence Walk”
25.
[Presentable]
11.
[The Hansberry Suite]
Afterword to Ruth
Afterword to Walter Lee
Afterword to Travis
Beneatha Writes to Herself
57.
[Holes]
85.
[Eunice on 194th]
6.
[Norristown]
13.
[Korvette’s, 1967]
16.
[Kimiko, 1961]
109.
[Great Migration Pentimento]
Perry County
Mike
Jo
Stetson East
siddity
86.
[Eunice by heart]
99.
[House Wedding]
HOMECOMING
29.
[Green Shades Outside the Tropicoro Bar]
38.
[Migration Letter]
213.
[Letter to Melvin Butler, 1965]
233.
[Letters to Mt. Airy, West Side]
240.
[Jones Beauty Shop]
189.
[American ode]
23.
[multiplied]
87.
[Eunice in flight]
117.
[East Chelten Avenue]
300.
[Easter]
18.
[6966 Weatham Street, 1968]
184.
[Letters to the First-Gen North]
DANCING ON THE SHORE 329. [No way the whole world is white.] 66.
[Holiday magazine on the sofa] 67.
[“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?”
311.
[Just American kids]
345.
[Letter to Nina Simone]
344.
[Cannabis]
321.
[Hendrix, Once]
19.
[Set for Chaka Khan]
Yvette
Chime
273.
[WDAS-FM, 1977]
215.
[Penn Relays]
212.
[Set for Pharoah Sanders]
Bus Ride
Chant
174.
[Ode to Sandalwood]
223.
[assimilation]
302.
[American Innocents]
312.
[Laughing with Don Belton]
78.
[Steel Pulse sings me a dream-letter]
304.
[You Didn’t Pay for That]
122.
[Migration Letter]

Notes
Acknowledgments
Gratitude

“M. Nzadi Keita has given us a long-breath song of Black witness, missed kisses, and love’s labors lost, longed for, and remembered. Migration Letters summons life from clay and concrete and loam, reconfigures it into lyric, stanza, testimony.” —Jabari Asim, author of Yonder

“As if entering a darkroom, Sister M. Nzadi Keita has entered the silences surrounding Black working-class migrants, transforming their lives, and carved that quiet, steady living into photographs. We see their journeys out of Southern kitchens and sawmills to Philadelphia homes and churches, newly integrated schools, resonant Civil Rights trauma, and college campuses. Into these disregarded interiors, her poems breathe air. As in her previous book, Brief Evidence of Heaven, Sister Keita again displays powerful attention to voice, intimate and constant, even as speakers and subjects shift. We hear the complex Blues across these journeys and we, too, become travelers.” —Sonia Sanchez

“How do we make a city with a name like ‘Philadelphia’ work for us when Philadelphia makes it hard for our blue-collar fathers to go to work? Migration Letters is a book of poems that has at its heart the question of cognitive dissonance in Black people who survive, participate, and thrive in an America they cannot fully trust. This dissonance is often best articulated through Keita’s use of synesthesia and other moments that move toward the surreal in a book of plain-spoken poetry about what is often all too real: ‘Gold/you hear. Gold/you crave.’ Migration Letters is a love letter straight from Keita’s heart.” —Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition

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