Michael S. Harper, who taught at Brown University in Providence for 43 years and was the first poet laureate of the state of Rhode Island, died on May 7 in Rhinebeck, New York. He was 78 years old.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Harper moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 13 years old. After graduating from high school, he earned an associate’s degree at Los Angeles City College and went on to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degree in English at California State University, Los Angeles. Harper was then accepted into the master of fine arts degree program at the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. There, he was the only African American in his creative writing classes and was required to live in racially segregated housing.
After earning his degree, Harper taught at Contra Costa College and what is now California State University, East Bay. He also taught at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. In 1970, he joined the faculty at Brown University and remained there until his retirement in 2013.
Professor Harper published 15 books of poetry. One of these works, Images of Kin (University of Illinois Press, 1977), was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1978. In 2008, Professor Harper received the Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement, the highest honor bestowed by the Poetry Society of America.
The Poetry Foundation has posted a collection of his works here.