Naomi Cornelia Long was born in Norfolk, Virginia on July 5, 1923, the youngest of three children and only daughter of the Rev. Dr. Clarence Marcellus Long and Maude Hilton Long. When she was eighteen months old, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey where her father became pastor of Calvary Baptist Church. At the age of thirteen, her first published poem appeared in the Orange Daily Courier. A graduate of Ashland Grammar School and beginning freshman at East Orange High School, she moved again to St. Louis, Missouri where her father served as pastor of Central Baptist Church for the next four years. There she attended and graduated with honors from historic, all-black Sumner High School. Having escaped the racism rampant in East Orange, she considers the move to St. Louis the turning point of her life. Several days after graduation, her first small collection of poetry, Songs to a Phantom Nightingale, was published by Fortuny’s Publishing Company in New York.
Naomi spent the next four years as a student at Virginia State College (now University) where many of her poems first appeared in the college newspaper, The Virginia Statesman. During her freshman year, her parents moved again to New Rochelle, New York where her father remained as pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church for 26 years. Hers was the only class in the history of the university whose entire four years coincided with a major war, World War II.
After graduation she began work on her Master of Arts degree in English at New York University but did not complete the course. When her fiancé, Julian Fields Witherspoon, whom she had first met at Sumner High School, was discharged from the Army, they married in 1946 and moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he had lived for a short time before the war. Many of her poems were published under the name Naomi L. Witherspoon in The Michigan Chronicle where she worked as staff writer for a short time. Of this union, one daughter, Jill Annette Witherspoon (now Boyer), was born, but her marriage was short-lived. After her divorce, she served as a service representative for Michigan Bell Telephone Company for six years, continuing her graduate studies part time. After her marriage to William Harold Madgett, she was able to attend Wayne University (now State) full time, earning the degree of Master of Arts in English Education. She taught in Detroit Public Schools for twelve years, most of them spent at Northwestern High School before her appointment as associate professor of English at Eastern Michigan University. While at Eastern she earned her Ph.D. from The International Institute for Advanced Studies. Promoted to full professor, she retired in 1984 as Professor of English Emeritus at the age of sixty. She had established Lotus Press in 1972 and found that trying to work two jobs was too strenuous.
Naomi Long Madgett, Poet Laureate of the City of Detroit since 2001 and recipient of the 2012 Kresge Eminent Artist Award, is the author of ten books of poetry and two textbooks and editor of two anthologies. Her poems appear in numerous journals and more than 180 anthologies both here and abroad. Several have been set to music and publicly performed. Her career as a published poet spans more than sixty years. In 1980 Lotus Press, Inc. was recognized as a 501(C)(3) organization specializing in the publication of books of poetry of high literary quality. Naomi continued to serve as publisher/ editor until 2015 when Lotus Press merged with Broadside Press, becoming what is now Broadside Lotus Press.
Among her many honors are an American Book Award, induction into three halls of fame, four honorary degrees, and several lifetime achievement awards. She has recorded some of her poems at the Library of Congress. At the request of his wife, she wrote a poem for the 1975 inauguration of Governor William Milliken and read it at his inauguration ceremony. As Poet Laureate, she read her poem celebrating the tri-centennial of Detroit and watched it sealed in a time capsule December 31, 2001 to be opened in a hundred years.
In 1993 the national Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award was established to recognize and publish an outstanding manuscript by an African American poet. This annual award continues under the sponsorship of Broadside Lotus Press.
On June 4, 2005, a life-size sculpture of Dr. Madgett, commissioned by the Board of Directors of Lotus Press and created by Artis Lane, was unveiled and is now a part of the permanent collection of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, the largest facility of its kind in the country.
The most accurate account of her life and work can be found in her autobiography, Pilgrim Journey and Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 23 (Gale Research). Some of her papers are in the Fisk University Special Collections Library, but the more complete Naomi Long Madgett/ Lotus Press Archive is on deposit at the University of Michigan Special Collections Library in Ann Arbor.