Chicago Poets Past and present

What makes a poet a "Chicago Poet?" A poet born in Chicago? Someone who wrote poetry in or about Chicago? An artist embraced by the City?

(For an in-depth exploration of this question, check out the Chicago Magazine article "Is Chicago the Poetry Capitol of America?")

However you define a Chicago poet, the city has produced some of the greats, both past and present--including the One Book selection 1919 author Eve L. Ewing. Check out the Library's collection of works by Chicago poets below:

Carl Sandburg

A Chicago literary icon, Sandburg wrote across genres, gaining recognition as a journalist, poet, biographer, and historian.

Find the 1951 Pulitzer winning Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg in our print collection. Access E-Books of Sandburg's iconic early works Chicago Poems (also available as an E-Audiobook) and Cornhuskers.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Brooks wrote her way into history as the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, be appointed the Poet Laureate, and be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Brooks' Poetry Foundation biography cites her as "one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry."

Much of Brooks' work brought to life African American communities and characters in Chicago. Her first collection A Street in Bronzeville and Annie Allen (available in part in The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks) are available upon request in our print collection.

Chicago Guild Literary Complex

Studs Terkel said of the Guild Literary Complex, a grassroots literary arts organization founded in Chicago in 1989, "The Guild Complex is as natural to Chicago as its rivers and lakes. It represents in the writers and performers the vision of a city of flesh and blood, men and women, rather than a city of things."

Request the Library's print copy of Power Lines, a collection of poems by Guild writers from our print collection.

Kevin Coval

Coval is a poet and the director of Young Chicago Authors, a non-profit dedicated to the "artistic development, social and emotional learning, and academic success in Chicago’s youth."

Check out Coval's A People's History of Chicago, which features 77 poems, one for every neighborhood in Chicago (The intro was written by Chance the Rapper!) in print or as an ebook!

Young Chicago Authors

"The End of Chiraq: A Literary Mixtape is a collection of poems, rap lyrics, short stories, essays, interviews, and artwork about Chicago, the city that came to be known as "Chiraq" ("Chicago" + "Iraq"), and the people who live in its vibrant and occasionally violent neighborhoods. Tuned to the work of Chicago’s youth, especially the emerging artists and activists surrounding Young Chicago Authors, this literary mixtape unpacks the meanings of “Chiraq” as both a vexed term and a space of possibility." --Publisher's description

Find The End of Chiraq: a Literary Mixtape in our print collection.

Daniel Borzutzky

Award winning poet Borzutzky has taught at City Colleges of Chicago and at UIC. His book The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

"Lake Michigan, a series of 19 lyric poems, imagines a prison camp located on the beaches of a Chicago that is privatized, racially segregated, and overrun by a brutal police force. Thinking about the ways in which economic policy, racism, and militarized policing combine to shape the city, Lake Michigan‘s poems continue exploring the themes from Borzutzky’s Performance of Becoming Human, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. But while the influences in this book (Césaire, Vallejo, Neruda) are international, the focus here is local as the book takes a hard look at neoliberal urbanism in the historic city of Chicago." --Publisher Description

Request Lake Michigan from our print collection.

Angela Jackson

A long time resident of Chicago, Jackson is a poet, novelist, and playwright.

Jackson's Poetry Foundation biography states that "Jackson’s free verse poems weave myth and life experience, conversation, and invocation."

Request our print copies of It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time, and And All These Roads be Luminous : Poems Selected and New, two of Jackson's poetry collections.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith grew up on the West Side of Chicago, and began her journey as a poet as a fixture at poetry slams in Chicago. In a Publisher's Weekly review, Smith is described as "that rarest of creatures, a charismatic slam and performance poet whose artistry truly survives on the printed page."

Find Smith's poetry about Chicago in Life According to Motown, Gotta go gotta flow : life, love, and lust on Chicago's South Side from the seventies, and Incendiary Art available for request in our print collection.

Nate Marshall

Named one of the Guild Literay Complex's 30 Writers to Watch 2019, Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. An NPR review of Marshall's collection Wild Hundreds states "Reading Marshall, it's impossible not to remember Gwendolyn Brooks circling another South Side Chicago neighborhood in her 1945 classic, "A Street In Bronzeville." In that book, a collage of voices captures a neighborhood hemmed in by poverty and racism. In Marshall's work, the problems and the music are updated."

Find Marshall's collaborative chapbook 1989: The Number as an E-Book. Marshal co-edited The BreakBeat Poets, also available as an E-Book, a collection of poems inspired by Hip-hop music and culture.

Li-Young Lee

A long-time Chicago resident, Lee is described in his Poetry Foundation biography as "a supremely lyric poet, Lee’s poems often use narrative and personal experience or memories to launch their investigations of the universal."

Access the E-Books of Lee's award-winning poetry book The City in Which I Love You and memoir The Winged Seed. Find his more recent poetry collections The Undressing and Behind My Eyes in our print collection.


Created with an image by Max Bender - "I was out for a portrait shoot at sunset and the light wrapped up around the buildings beautifully. The clouds and light made more amazing exposure of both the models and the city."