CAROLYN MARIE RODGERS was born on December 14, 1945, in Chicago, the daughter of Clarence and Bazella (Colding) Rodgers. After attending public schools in Chicago, she entered the University of Illinois in 1960 but left the next year; she then enrolled at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where she received a B.A. in 1965.
During college and after graduation, Rodgers held various jobs to support herself, mostly in community service. She also became a political activist in the 1960s, fighting for the rights of blacks in a white society and the rights of women in a male society. Rodgers met various black writers in Chicago and joined the Organization of Black American Culture Writers Workshop and Gwendolyn Brooks's Writers Workshop, where she worked on her poetry.
Rodgers's first collection, Paper Soul, was published in 1968; it won the Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Fund Award. The poems in this volume reveal Rodgers's revolutionary ideology and are written in dialect, often with experimental grammar and syntax. Songs of a Black Bird and 2 Love Raps appeared the next year. In 1975 Rodgers published how i got ovah: New and Selected Poems, which brought her much celebrity and critical acclaim (it was nominated for a National Book Award). Revolutionary politics still appear in the collection, but overall it is highly autobiographical, with the focus shifting from the communal to the personal. In the process of fashioning her own rhythms and examining more personal topics, Rodgers has perhaps written more original and distinctive poems in how i got ovah than in her previous collections. Her next volume, The Heart as Ever Green (1978), also reveals a noticeable maturity of theme and refinement of technique.
After spending five years as a social worker, Rodgers began a teaching career in 1968 at Columbia College in Chicago. She has subsequently taught at the University of Washington, Albany State College, Malcolm X College, and Indiana University. In 1983 she received an M.A. from the University