Praise Song for the Day
~ Elizabeth Alexander
A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
Elizabeth Alexander was born in Harlem, New York, but grew up in Washington, DC, the daughter of former United States Secretary of the Army and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairman, Clifford Alexander Jr. She holds degrees from Yale, Boston University, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her PhD. She is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the inaugural Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. She is the former Chair of the African American Studies Department at Yale University. Alexander is a highly respected scholar, teacher, and mentor, as well as a founding member of Cave Canem, an organization dedicated to promoting African American poets and poetry. Her accomplishments within academia are numerous and include a Quantrelle Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Chicago and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard and the Alphonse Fletcher Foundation.
Alexander’s career as a poet has likewise been impressive. Her book American Sublime (2005) was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and in 2005 she was awarded the Jackson Poetry Prize. She is often recognized as a pivotal figure in African American poetry. When Barack Obama asked her to compose and read a poem for his Presidential inauguration, she joined the ranks of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou and Miller Williams; her poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” became a bestseller after it was published as a chapbook by Graywolf Press.
Alexander writes on a variety of subjects, most notably race and gender, politics and history, and motherhood. The poet Clarence Major has described Alexander’s “instinct for turning her profound cultural vision into one that illuminates universal experience,” and Doris Lynch, writing for the Library Journal, commented that “memory and race” are “two of Alexander’s most powerful themes,” adding that “when Alexander’s forge is hot, the reader is transported to her world.” Alexander’s poems, short stories, and critical essays have been widely published in journals such as the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, the Village Voice, and Prairie Schooner. Her verse play Diva Studies was produced by the Yale School of Drama in May, 1996. . . .