9 Afro-Latinx Writers Reshaping the Poetry Landscape

Melania Luisa Marte

Poetry isn't just for highbrow bookworms and literature buffs. Recently, Instagram phenomenons like poet Rupi Kaur and her 4.4 million followers, as well as inspiring trailblazers like Amanda Gorman, have shown that poems can touch millions while advocating for feminism, racial justice, radical self-love, and resistance. However, while social media is great for letting poets and writers get their word wizardry out to the masses, let's face it: there is still not enough representation of Black and brown writers in the literary landscape, and there's definitely not enough Afro-Latinx representation. It's time that changed.

Today, we highlight Afro-Latinx poets that master and use this beautiful and powerful tool to honor their cultural identities, find connection, seek clarity, elevate their communities, or simply share their truth. From Elizabeth Acevedo's empowering ode to natural hair to Melania Luisa Marte's celebration of Spanglish and the duality of being Black Latina and American, these poets' work makes it easy to understand why they deserve a place at the literary table.

If you've never read poetry or think it isn't for you, these writers invite you to give it a chance. You may find that poetry can be, as Darrel Alejandro Holnes tells POPSUGAR, a way to digest reality "in moments when we struggle to process the world around us." Jasmine Mendez recommends viewing poetry like the lyrics to your favorite song. "Poetry is everywhere, and there is a type of poetry and poet for everyone — you just have to find the one that speaks to you," she tells POPSUGAR. With that said, we recommend that you read these poets, follow them, buy their books, and find the poem that speaks to you.

Melania Luisa Marte

Growing up in New York City, Melanie Luisa Marte discovered poetry during a middle-school field trip to the legendary Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side. "I have been hooked and obsessed with poetry ever since," she tells POPSUGAR.

Her most popular poem, "Afro-Latina," has more 9 million views on Instagram. It's a forceful reclamation of space and visibility for Black Latinas, with powerful lines like, "This is me, no longer flat-ironing my 'fro to fit within the margins of a term dependent on my proximity to whiteness."

Finding inspiration in the work of masters like Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, and James Baldwin, she uses poetry to give a sense of multi-dimensionality to our worlds, to tell her truth, and "to write it boldly, bravely, and beautifully," she says.

Danyelis Rodriguez del Orbe
Sergio Rodriguez

Danyelis Rodriguez del Orbe

Danyelis Rodriguez del Orbe considers herself "a spoken-word artist." A lover of performing arts, this Dominicana thrives on stage and has found that spoken poetry offers her the autonomy to tell her story as an undocumented Black woman growing up in the Bronx.

She describes her style as a freestyle compilation of feelings and truth. "Writing poems like a 'Poem of Reclamation for Papi' and 'Resistance for Mami,' I was able to have complex conversations with my family about how we see ourselves in the United States versus in our home country, Dominican Republic — and how we may have been misinformed about how best to relate to other Black people in the diaspora," she tells POPSUGAR.

For her, poetry is a tool that allows people to tell their own stories, embrace their cultural identity, and shape the way they see ourselves and how they want others to see them.

Jasminne Mendez
Tasha Gorel

Jasminne Mendez

In her forthcoming young-adult memoir, "Islands Apart: Becoming Dominican American," Jasminne Mendez writes about the moment she knew she wanted to become a poet. She was around 10 years old when her father took her and her siblings to hear Maya Angelou speak and read poetry at Austin Peay State University. "I did realize in that moment that poetry had the power to move people, and I knew I wanted to do that. I knew I wanted keep writing and would always write," she tells POPSUGAR.

The daughter of Dominican immigrants, she grew up learning both languages and has written extensively about this duality and what being Dominican American means. She also writes children's books, young-adult novels, essays, and creative nonfiction, but she says poetry has allowed her to make sense of the ways she often felt "not enough" or "not from here or there." "It's allowed me to create a culture almost all my own, based off my intersectional identities and lived experiences," she says. "It's shown me that my cultural identity is ever evolving, and doesn't have to fit into one box or another and that it doesn't have to be like anyone else's."

Raina León
Matteo Monchiero

Raina León

This Afro-Boricua wrote her first poem when she was in the third grade and has been imagining, creating, and connecting with others through poetry ever since. Raina León's womanist and Afrocentric poems, as well as her fiction and academic work, have been published in more than 100 journals and anthologies. She's also a founding editor of the Acentos Review, an online quarterly publication devoted to the promotion of Latinx arts, and a professor of education at Saint Mary's College of California (she is the first Afro-Latina to hold that title there). To her, poetry and any creative practice is rooted in community, and it's everywhere — so its growing presence and popularity on social media is only natural. "Poetry is breath. It is always as central as that, and social media is just the vehicle right now," she tells POPSUGAR. "Before, it was the speakeasy, the party after the jazz show, the salon, the public theater."

Rio Cortez

A New York-based writer who identifies as Black American, Puerto Rican, femme, native Utahn, and a mother, Rio Cortez knew she wanted to be a poet after watching John Singleton's "Poetic Justice" and "Sister Act II" when she was 9 or 10 years old. "I was completely moved by the scenes where Janet Jackson reads the poetry of Maya Angelou from her character's notebook," Cortez tells POPSUGAR. "I didn't know language could make me feel that way."

For her, poetry is a place where she's been able to ask questions, seek clarity, and explore ideas. Often, she says, that exploration is rooted in her racial identity and understanding of herself in every way and in every phase of her life.

She's also the author of the New York Times best-selling children's book "The ABCs of Black History" and the forthcoming poetry collection "Golden Ax."

Vanessa Chica Ferreira
Vanessa Chica Ferrerira

Vanessa Chica Ferreira

Vanessa Chica Ferreira is a New York City educator, writer, poet, playwright, and self-proclaimed fat activist. She started writing journals when she was a child after being inspired by Anne Frank's diary. She is also the curator and editor of "What They Leave Behind, a Latinx Anthology," a powerful collection compiling the work of over 50 Latinx poets whose poems embody and celebrate the Latinx diaspora in all its complexity.

"I believe the purpose of my poetry is to create, to connect, to release, to contemplate, to be petty, to remember, to heal, to tell, to inform, for activism, to honor my mother's memory," she tells POPSUGAR. "It is a shapeshifter that changes with my needs."

She feels that anyone can sense the influence of her cultural identity in her poetry, which contains Spanglish, references to merengue, memories of patios and aguacates, and the sacrifices her mother made to leave Santo Domingo and get them to the US.

For those who've never read poetry or think poetry in't for them, she recommends starting with poetry from people who look and sound like you. "Find the poetry that speaks to you," she says.

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Elizabeth Acevedo

Afro-Dominican Elizabeth Acevedo, a National Poetry Slam champion and author of the New York Times bestseller and National Book Award winner "The Poet X," is perhaps the best known Afro-Latinx poet of her generation. If you've seen her perform poems like "Afro-Latina," you'll understand why.

If you're a fan of her most famous poem, "Hair", you'll love the new illustrated-book version, "Inheritance: A Visual Poem," illustrated by Andrea Pippin and coming out in May 2022. She has also published "With the Fire on High" and "Clap When You Land," and she's a contributor to "Wild Tongue Can't Be Tamed" by Saraciea J. Fennell.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley
Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Jennifer Maritza McCauley's poetry explores dualities like the relationship between identity and language. To paint that duality, she often mixes Spanish, English, and different voices that are natural to her, with lines like "Oye: /this talk / ain't school-taught."

The poet and professor of literature and creative writing says her style has been influenced by poets like Mayra Santos-Febres, a celebrated Afro-Puerto Rican multigenre author like herself.

"My cultural identity is very important to me," she tells POPSUGAR. "I often write about being both Black American and Puerto Rican and living in in-between spaces and different worlds — and where those worlds overlap. I'm proud of my heritage and like to explore it in my poetry."

Darrel Alejandro Holnes

Winner of the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, Darrel Alejandro Holnes recently published his debut poetry collection, "Stepmotherland," where he dives deep into his roots, his search for identity, his coming of age, and his journey from Panama to the US.

Poetry has become a way for him to represent his culture and his community in landscapes like contemporary American poetry, where, he tells POPSUGAR, Black Panamanians or Panamanians mostly go unseen.

"I always write with the hope that my writing provides context for people who exist at intersections just like I do. Some people think that people like me 'check way too many boxes' on the census in their minds," he says. "They actively work to erase the complexity of people like me who are immigrant, Black, Latine, Afro-Indigenous, queer, multihyphenate artists. They're wrong; we are here." He hopes his poems serve as witness to the existence of intersectional peoples, and that it helps people feel seen and truly understood.