Born in Harlem in 1929, poet and writer Raymond R. Patterson received an education from the New York City Public School System. At Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he was elected class poet and won the Boretone Mountain Poetry Award. Serving in the United States Army (1951-53), he later received a MA in English from NYU and married Boydice Alice Cooke in 1957. Working at Benedict College, Patterson later became an emeritus professor of English at City College of the City University of New York.
From an unpublished book-length poem on the life of Phillis Wheatley to the librettist for Hale Smith’s operas David Walker and Goree, Patterson’s collection is diverse, plentiful, and inspiring. He is also the author of 26 Ways of Looking at a Black Man and Other Poems (1969) and Elemental Blues (1983), and his poetry has been set by Smith in Three Patterson Lyrics (1986). Patterson’s work has additionally been published in the Transatlantic Review, Ohio Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, along with anthologies including The Poetry of the Negro, New Black Voices, The Norton Introduction to Literature as well as The Best American Poetry of 1996.
Receiving a National Endowment for the Arts Award and a Creative Artists Public Service fellowship, Patterson has read his works everywhere from local venues to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the 60th Birthday Celebration of Chinua Achebe at the University of Nigeria. An Umbra Poet, he served on the executive boards of the Poetry Society of America, the PEN American Center, and the Walt Whitman Birthplace. Finally, Patterson was the founder of the Langston Hughes Festival, which he directed from 1973 to 1993.
– Molly Schwall
This profile was created in 2021 as part of The Savvy Singer, an EXCEL Lab course at The University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, and a collaboration with the Hampsong Foundation via the Classic Song Research Initiative.
“Raymond Patterson, 71, Poet and Professor.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/12/arts/raymond-patterson-71-poet-and-professor.html.
“Raymond R. Patterson, Harlem Poet Born.” African American Registry, 4 June 2021, https://aaregistry.org/story/raymond-r-patterson-a-poet-from-harlem/.