Inaugural poet fits right in with Obama choices

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Hoodoo in the sleeping nook.

Mojo in Linda Brent’s crawlspace.

Nineteenth century corncob cosmogram,

set on the dirt floor, beneath the slanted roof,

left intact the afternoon

that someone came and told those slaves

“We’re free.”

Mrs. Alexander, 46, studied at Yale University, Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her doctorate in English. She teaches at the Department of African American Studies at Yale, although she spent the past year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Married with two sons, Simon, 10, and Solomon, 9, she has ties to both the early civil rights movement and the Obama family. She was 1 year old when her parents took her in a stroller April 28, 1963, to see Martin Luther King deliver his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the Mall.

She grew up among the District’s intelligentsia. Both her parents were Ivy League graduates, and she attended Sidwell Friends School, the same private school where the young Obama girls have enrolled.

Her father, Clifford Alexander, served as presidential civil rights adviser to President Johnson in the 1960s and as secretary of the Army in the Carter administration. Mr. Alexander, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of the District in 1974, now sits on the board of governors of the American Stock Exchange.

Mrs. Alexander’s mother, Adele Logan Alexander, is an author of two history books and a professor of African-American women’s history at George Washington University.

Elizabeth Alexander can trace her Obama connection to the 1990s. She and Mr. Obama taught at the University of Chicago and lived in the same neighborhood. Her brother, Mark, worked on the Obama presidential campaign and the transition team.

Her appearance will mark the fourth time a poet has spoken at the presidential inaugural. The first, Robert Frost, famously recited his poem, “Gift Outright,” from memory at the 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy after the blinding sun and high winds rendered him unable to read the poem he had prepared.

It would be another 42 years before another poet would be invited to the inaugural. Mr. Clinton exhumed the practice with Mrs. Angelou in 1993 and Miller Williams, an Arkansas-based poet, at the 1997 inauguration.

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