Collection Location: Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center
In November 1966, the Enoch Pratt Free Library published the first issue of Chicory, a magazine of poetry and art by Baltimore residents, edited by local poet Sam Cornish. Funded at its inception through the federal Office of Economic Opportunity’s Community Action Program, it was led at the local level by Evelyn Levy, supervisor of Library Services for the Community Action Program, and Thelma Bell, one of the first African American children’s librarians at Pratt. The Library published up to ten issues of Chicory per year over the next three decades, until its last issue in 1983.
Chicory differed from a traditional literary magazine in several ways. It initially focused on writings by residents of the Baltimore community action target area in East Baltimore, an impoverished, predominantly African American neighborhood, though it would grow through neighborhood-based community centers to encompass the entire city. It published pieces with no editing and also published snippets of overheard conversations or poems told to one of the editors. It gave Baltimore’s poor communities an outlet for their thoughts and ideas. As the November 1969 issue proclaimed,
“The purpose of this magazine is to publish work overheard by the editor which reflect the music of language in the inner city; to encourage more spoken and written comment by people in the community action area; and to inform those other people and agencies within the area of our ways of living.”
Inspired by the Black Arts Movement, Chicory helped to develop a specifically African American literary and artistic aesthetic, while borrowing the community action program’s vision of “maximium feasible participation of the poor,” that gave it its purpose. While Chicory was anthologized in 1969 in the book Chicory: Young Voices from the Black Ghetto, it was mainly known within Baltimore. Amazingly, this unique little magazine was forgotten after its final issue, even though it published scores of writers in its pages, including some who went on to longstanding careers as writers, like Rafael Alvarez.
Writers were recruited through partnerships with schools and community centers, as well as word of mouth. Following Cornish, who moved to Boston and later was named that city’s Poet Laureate, Chicory was edited by Lucian Dixon and Augustus Brathwaite. Its longest serving editor was Melvin Edward Brown, who led the magazine for ten years, expanding the magazine’s readership through workshops and readings, which attracted published poets along with amateurs. E. Adam Jackson oversaw the magazine until its final issue in Winter 1983.
Chicory’s writers covered a huge range of topics, from the 1968 riots in Baltimore after Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder to the Vietnam War, from drug addition to police brutality, and from crumbling neighborhoods to love and romance. Unvarnished, it offers readers insight into how average, working-class Baltimoreans, mainly though not exclusively African American, saw the world. It is a trove of material about Baltimore, its neighborhoods, African American life, politics, culture, religion, spirituality, and gender, and the role of arts in communities.
Digitizing Chicory was led by Mary Rizzo, Rutgers University-Newark, and advisors Sam Cornish and Melvin Edward Brown. Funding was provided by the History Department and Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Office at Rutgers University-Newark.
For more information or if you wrote for Chicory, please contact Mary Rizzo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cornish, S., & Dixon, L. W. (1969). Chicory: Young voices from the Black ghetto. New York: Association Press.