Naomi Cornelia Long was born in Norfolk, VA, the youngest of three children and only daughter of Rev. Clarence M. and Maude (Hilton) Long. The family moved to East Orange, NJ when Naomi was a toddler and remained there until she began high school. Their move to St. Louis, MO and her attendance at Summer High School had a very positive effect on her life and gave her a sense of direction. During her freshman year at Virginia State University, from which she graduated in 1945, the family moved to New Rochelle, NY. At Virginia State University she became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Her marriage to Julian F. Witherspoon brought her to Detroit in 1946. Of this union her only child Jill was born. Her early employment included the telephone company and The Michigan Chronicle. Naomi earned advance degrees at Wayne State University and the International Institute for Advanced Studies (Greenwich University).
She married William Harold Madgett in 1954, acquiring two sons who she helped to rear. That marriage, like the first, ended in divorce. However, having established an international reputation as a poet under the name Naomi Long Madgett, she continued to use it. Her twenty-four year marriage to Leonard P. Andrews, to whom she was deeply devoted, ended with his death in 1996.
Naomi’s three-pronged career was one of generosity and unstinting service. As a teacher, she was a role model for hundreds of students whose lives were influenced by her encouragement and insistence upon the highest achievement of which they were capable. At Northwestern High School, she introduced creative writing and African American Literature into the curriculum and was a pioneer in textbook reform, insisting on more representative inclusion of African American writers in textbooks. She taught briefly at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and served one year as research associate at Oakland University. For sixteen years she taught at Eastern Michigan University, retiring as professor emeritus in 1984.
Her name is synonymous with Lotus Press, that was a nationally a leading publisher of poetry of high literary quality by African Americans and others. For years she donated her services as publisher and editor, producing more than ninety books, including the anthology, Adam of lfe: Black Women in Praise of Black Men. The careers of numerous poets have been advanced through her assistance. In 1993 she established the annual Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award for an outstanding manuscript by an African American poet.
As I have grown older, I have considered the purpose for which I was born. It was only when I gave myself away that I found myself.
Naomi Long Madgett, was named the Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit in 2001. On June 4, 2005, a life-size sculpture of Naomi, commissioned by the Board of Directors of Lotus Press and created by Artis Lane and is now a part of the permanent collection of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. Naomi became the 2012 recipient of the Kresge Eminent Artist Award, which included a monograph celebrating her life as poet, editor and educator.
Her own poetry consists of eleven volumes, ‘including the awardwinning Octavia and Other Poems. Naomi’s work has appeared in numerous periodicals and more than 180 anthologies here and abroad. Her many honors include an American Book Award, the Michigan Artist Award, and honorary degrees from Siena Heights College, Loyola University-Chicago, and Michigan State University. Her most recent book is You Are My Joy and Pain was published by Wayne State University Press 2020.
Naomi professed Christianity early in life and was baptized by her father at the age of eight. She lived by an abiding faith. Much of her poetry shows the influence of the church. She joined Plymouth Church in 1960 and served for many years as historian. A long-time member of the Renaissance Choir, she also served as a trustee and participated in the outreach program of worship at the Arnold and Detroit Medical Center Northwest Homes. The most exhaustive and accurate account of her life and work are in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 23 (Gale Research Company), Pilgrim Journey.
Naomi Long Madgett died November 5, 2020 at her home in West Bloomfield, Michigan after a short illness. She was 97 years old. She is survived by daughter, Jill Witherspoon Boyer, Step children Gerald Madgett, William Harold Madgett, Jr., Sharliyn Brown and Kathryn Andrews. Six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
M.Ed. (English), Wayne State University, 1955
B.A., Virginia State University, 1945
- Lotus Press, Inc., publisher/editor, 1972 – 2015
- Michigan State University Press, poetry editor, 1993 – 1998
- Eastern Michigan University (Department of English Language and Literature),
professor emeritus, 1984; professor, 1973 – 84; associate professor, 1968 -73
- University of Michigan (Department of English), Ann Arbor, MI, lecturer, winter, 1970
- Detroit Public Schools, Detroit, MI, high school English teacher, 1955 – 65, 1966 – 68
- Oakland University, research associate (first Mott Fellow in English), 1965 – 66