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Blackipedia is a new weekly CASSIUS feature that takes a fun approach to exploring Black history, slang, and culture. For the month of April (#NationalPoetryMonth), we’re honoring legendary Black wordsmiths. Get ready to learn something—and tell a friend!  

The Dark Room Collective

[th uh  dahrk roo m kuhlek-tiv]


  • Founded in 1988 by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Sharan Strange after attending James Baldwin’s funeral, The Dark Room Collective was a diverse community of burgeoning Black writers whose members included Major Jackson, Janice Lowe and Kevin Young, among others. “Originally conceived as a reading series, the Collective became a small community of poets,” explains. It also invited writers from outside the collective to share their work, attracting the presence of everyone from Alice Walker to Yusef Komunyakaa.

  • According to The Harvard Crimson, the group operated as a literary organization. Ellis told the Callaloo journal in 1998: “[W]e’d read one book, then trade and share different books. We didn’t always read them in the order they were written, but would place them in order and talk about why one book was written after another; we looked for the things that held books together, argued with decisions authors made and made critical judgments, all the time developing our own tastes and literary vocabularies. Lonely fun done together.” The Collective later expanded the series to include music, art, and workshops.

  • In 2013, the Collective came back together for its 25th Anniversary Nothing Personal tour. Nearly all founding members were in attendance, including Natasha Trethewey, Major Jackson, and Thomas Sayers Ellis. In 2012, the collective participated in a reading. You can listen to it here.

To Learn More:

The Dark Room Collective, Then and Now (Poets & Writers)

A Look at the Dark Room Collective and the Psychedelic Club (The Harvard Crimson)

The Dark Room Collective: Where Black Poetry Took Wing (The New York Times)