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Melba Joyce Boyd

Influential. Distinguished. Renowned.

Expansive as they are, these words do not capture the prolific literary achievements, cultural contributions, and artistic impact of 2023 Kresge Eminent Artist Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd.

Dr. Boyd is a native Detroiter, poet, scholar, editor, essayist, and filmmaker. Her prose honors local and global icons, chronicles historic events, explores the lives and experiences of Black Detroiters, and calls clearly for justice and accountability that are long overdue.

She is the award-winning author of 13 books, nine of which are poetry. Her long list of literary awards include two Library of Michigan Notable Book Awards for Poetry, an Independent Publisher Award, and an American Library Association Black Caucus Honor Award. Dr. Boyd was a Finalist for an NAACP Image Award in Poetry and the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Her poetry has been translated into German, French, and Italian. She has given poetry readings and lectures on African American literature and culture throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa.

Dr. Boyd has been a force in academia for over four decades. She is currently the Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Wayne State University. She was a visiting professor at the Fudan University in the Republic of China, and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bremen in Germany. She has held appointments at the University of Iowa, the Ohio State University, and was the director of African American Studies at the University of Michigan in Flint. With over 100 published essays, her work has appeared in anthologies, academic journals, cultural periodicals, and newspapers in the United States and Europe.

Dr. Boyd’s life and work are intertwined with the history of Detroit and its legacy of groundbreaking, game-changing artists. She was assistant editor to Dudley Randall, (who founded Broadside Press) and refers to Randall and Naomi Long Madgett—Detroit Poet Laureate, 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist, and founder of Lotus Press—as her “literary parents.” Boyd continues to serve on the editorial Board at Wayne State University Press, which published Madgett’s last book of poetry.

Many of Dr. Boyd’s works open with piercing cadence and content that set the table for the story she has prepared for readers and listeners to receive. Her pointed poetry is an amalgamation of history and art, a mingling of fact and feeling—and the space where the two are indistinguishable.

We want our city back.
We want our streetlights on.
We want our garbage gone.
We want our children
playing on playgrounds,
but not with loaded guns.

Excerpt from We Want Our City Back

Her words are imprinted on hearts and etched on the walls of our city, including, “This Museum Was Once a Dream,” that she wrote for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and is a permanent installation engraved on the museum’s dedication wall. On Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2023, Dr. Boyd received the Spirit of Detroit Award during a ceremony at the Wright Museum. A fitting award for an artist whose work resounds with those who understand the complex history and rich culture of Detroit and lights a path to understanding for those who are unaware.

It is an honor to celebrate Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd’s lifetime of achievements—and add the 15th Kresge Eminent Artist Award to an extensive list of well-deserved awards and accolades.

Christina deRoos
Director, Kresge Arts in Detroit