Conrad Kent Rivers
(1933–1968), poet, fiction writer, and dramatist.
In 1951, when he was in high school, Conrad Kent Rivers won the Savannah State Poetry Prize for his poem “Poor Peon.” In 1959, when he was a senior at Wilberforce University, his first book of poetry, Perchance to Dream, Othello, was published. The collection, which features a series of conversations with Othello, Harlem, and the United States, probes racism, alienation, and death—themes that would also dominate his later works. Rivers attended graduate school at Chicago Teacher's College and Indiana University, and taught high school in Chicago and in Gary, Indiana, all the while publishing poems in periodicals such as the Antioch Review, Negro Digest, Ohio Poetry Review, and Kenyon Review. Rivers is generally considered a poet of the black aesthetic and his concern with issues such as racism and violence, black history and black pride, self-love and self-respect are part and parcel of that movement. However, he was also fascinated with traditional poetic forms and techniques and his work evidences the influence of established writers such as his uncle Ray Mclvers, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. The title of his second book of poems, These Black Bodies and This Sunburnt Face (1962), alludes to William Blake and continues the intertextual conversations begun in his first. The poems in Dusk at Selma (1965) and The Still Voice of Harlem (1968) demonstrate increasing artistry; however, Rivers died a few weeks before the fourth volume appeared. According to Paul Breman, who published The Wright Poems (1972), a posthumous collection of poems Rivers wrote about or dedicated to Richard Wright, Rivers authored several short stories and a play about Paul Laurence Dunbar that still await “the sympathetic hand of a publisher or producer.”
Eugene B. Redmond, Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: A Critical History, 1976.Edwin L. Coleman II, “Conrad Kent Rivers,” in DLB, vol. 41, Afro-American Poets since 1955, eds. Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis, 1985, pp. 282–286.
Frances Smith Foster