Mari Evans (born July 16, 1923) is an African-American poet. She is a much anthologized poet, whose work has appeared in more than one hundred anthologies. In 1984 she edited one of the first critical books devoted to the work of Black women writers. A monumental figure in education and poetry, Evans is best known for her poem, I Am a Black Woman.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Evans was 10 years old when her mother died, and she was subsequently encouraged in her writing by her father, as she recalls in her essay “My Father’s Passage” (1984). She attended local public schools before going on to the University of Toledo, where she majored in fashion design in 1939, though left without a degree. She began a series of teaching appointments in American universities beginning with Indiana University-Purdue, where she taught courses in African-American Literature. Evans also taught at Cornell, Northwestern, Washington University in St. Louis, Spelman College, the University of Miami at Coral Gables, and the State University of New York at Albany.
From 1968 to 1973, she produced, wrote and directed the television program The Black Experience for WTTV in Indianapolis. She received an honorary degree from Marian College in 1975.
Mari Evans has written poetry, short fiction stories, children’s books, and theater pieces. Among her books of poetry are A Dark and Splendid Mass (Harlem River Press, 1992), Nightstar: 1973-1978 (1981), I Am a Black Woman (1970), and Where Is All the Music? (1968). Her books for children include Dear Corinne, Tell Somebody! Love, Annie: A Book about Secrets (1999), Singing Black: Alternative Nursery Rhymes for Children (1998, illustrated by Ramon Price) Jim Flying High (1979, illustrated by Ashley Bryan), Rap Stories (1974), and J.D. (1973, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney).
She is also the author of the plays Eye (a 1979 adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God) and River of My Song (first produced in 1977).
She is also the editor of Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation.
Evans now writes children’s books that concentrate on black history and culture for the younger population. The most important of her countless awards for writing came in 1981 when she received the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award. Evans’ impact on Africa was reflected in 1997 when the Ugandan government issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. Mari Evans is divorced with two sons and now resides in Indianapolis.