Arnold Adoff was a pioneer in bringing the poetry of African American authors to young people, and he continued this tradition with his original poems for children and adolescents. His book of original poems Flamboyan, published in 1988, describes the life and dreams of a young girl who is of mixed racial heritage. In the mid-1990’s, he was working on an anthology of women’s poetry and an anthology of American Indian poetry, areas that Adoff believes have been neglected as much as African American poetry.
Adoff recognized early in his career that there was insufficient representation of black poetry in literature and in school textbooks. He set out to remedy this situation by organizing two anthologies that he hoped would represent the finest authors in content, racial vision, and message. I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by Negro Americans was published in 1968 and was followed by The Poetry of Black Americans, an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book for 1973.
Pivotal factors in Adoff’s life were his early years as a member of a family to whom both music and reading were important and his experience of growing up in a mixed, working-class New York neighborhood. He discovered the literary works of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. Later, living in Greenwich Village and teaching in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, he came into contact with black jazz musicians of his day. One musician, Charlie Mingus, became a role model for Adoff in communicating thoughts and feelings via rhythm and language.
The work of Arnold Adoff is recognized and appreciated by students, peers, and critics. His poems and poetry collections are used in classrooms to read both for pleasure and for analysis. They also serve as vehicles for discussion. His works have been honored by the ALA, the Child Study Association of America, the National Council for Social Studies, the International Reading Association, and the Children’s Book Council.
All the Colors of the Race was an ALA Notable Book in 1982 and was cited for special recognition by the Jane Addams Peace Association in 1983. Adoff himself is the recipient of the poetry award bestowed by the National Council of Teachers of English.