Gwendolyn Brooks (1st African American Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet 1917 - 2000)

Discussion in 'Poet & Poetess Biographies' started by MsJacquiiC, May 3, 2008.

  1. MsJacquiiC

    Poetica Magnifique Staff Member
    Jun 8, 2006
    Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

    Gwendolyn Brooks, whose mother was a former school teacher and whose father faught in the Civil War, was born in Topeka, Kansas. She spent most of her life, though, on Chicago’s south side, whose Bronzeville neighborhood she memorialized in her poetry. Brooks is the first African American to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry -- so honored for Annie Allen in 1950 -- and the first African American to be appointed to the American Academy of Arts & Letters (1976). She is best known for her poetic descriptions of African American city life.

    [photoright=]Brooks pictured with prolific Poet Langston Hughes. Lanston Hughes wrote of the Pulitzer Prize winning Annie Allen that "the people and poems in Gwendolyn Brooks' book are alive, reaching, and very much of today."[/photoright]Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of thirteen. When Brooks was sixteen years old, she had compiled a portfolio of around seventy-five published poems. Her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, published in 1945 by Harper and Row, brought her instant critical acclaim. She received her first Guggenheim Fellowship and was one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine. In 1950, she published her second book of poetry, Annie Allen, which won her Poetry Magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize and ultimately, the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She published her 1st and only novel Maud Martha -- which details a black woman's life in short vignettes -- in 1950.

    After John F. Kennedy invited her to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, she began her career teaching creative writing. She taught at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin. In her distinguished and exceptional career, Brooks has been awarded more than seventy-five honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide.

    In addition to Brooks' previously listed awards and honorariums, she was made Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. In 1985, Brooks became the Library of Congress's Consultant in Poetry, a one year position whose title changed the next year to Poet Laureate. In 1988, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 1994, she was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities's Jefferson Lecturer, one of the highest honors for American literature and the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government.

    Brooks -- devoted to encouraging young people to write -- passed away on December 3, 2000 at the age of 83, at her Southside Chicago home. She is quoted as having stated that to create "bigness" you don't have to create an epic. "Bigness," said Brooks "can be found in a little haiku, five syllables, seven syllables." A great example of this philosophy can be seen in her famous poem "We Real Cool".

    [FIELDSET="We Real Cool By Gwendolyn Brooks"]

    We real cool. We
    Left school. We

    Lurk late. We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin. We
    Thin gin. We

    Jazz June. We
    Die soon.

    [FIELDSET="a song in the front yard By Gwendolyn Brooks"]
    I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
    I want a peek at the back
    Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
    A girl gets sick of a rose.

    I want to go in the back yard now
    And maybe down the alley,
    To where the charity children play.
    I want a good time today.

    They do some wonderful things.
    They have some wonderful fun.
    My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
    How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
    My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
    Will grow up to be a bad woman.
    That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
    (On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

    But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
    And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
    And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
    And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

    Gwendolyn Brooks, “a song in the front yard” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 1963 by Gwendolyn Brooks.

    [FIELDSET="The Blackstone Rangers By Gwendolyn Brooks"]

    There they are.
    Thirty at the corner.
    Black, raw, ready.
    Sores in the city
    that do not want to heal.


    Jeff. Gene. Geronimo. And Bop.
    They cancel, cure and curry.
    Hardly the dupes of the downtown thing
    the cold bonbon,
    the rhinestone thing. And hardly
    in a hurry.
    Hardly Belafonte, King,
    Black Jesus, Stokely, Malcolm X or Rap.
    Bungled trophies.
    Their country is a Nation on no map.

    Jeff, Gene, Geronimo and Bop
    in the passionate noon,
    in bewitching night
    are the detailed men, the copious men.
    They curry, cure,
    they cancel, cancelled images whose Concerts
    are not divine, vivacious; the different tins
    are intense last entries; pagan argument;
    translations of the night.

    The Blackstone bitter bureaus
    (bureaucracy is footloose) edit, fuse
    unfashionable damnations and descent;
    and exulting, monstrous hand on monstrous hand,
    construct, strangely, a monstrous pearl or grace.


    A Rangerette

    Gang Girls are sweet exotics.
    Mary Ann
    uses the nutrients of her orient,
    but sometimes sighs for Cities of blue and jewel
    beyond her Ranger rim of Cottage Grove.
    (Bowery Boys, Disciples, Whip-Birds will
    dissolve no margins, stop no savory sanctities.)

    Mary is
    a rose in a whiskey glass.

    Februaries shudder and are gone. Aprils
    fret frankly, lilac hurries on.
    Summer is a hard irregular ridge.
    October looks away.
    And that’s the Year!
                                  Save for her bugle-love.
    Save for the bleat of not-obese devotion.
    Save for Somebody Terribly Dying, under
    the philanthropy of robins. Save for her Ranger
    an amount of rainbow in a string-drawn bag.
    “Where did you get the diamond?” Do not ask:
    but swallow, straight, the spirals of his flask
    and assist him at your zipper; pet his lips
    and help him clutch you.

    Love’s another departure.
    Will there be any arrivals, confirmations?
    Will there be gleaning?

    Mary, the Shakedancer’s child
    from the rooming-flat, pants carefully, peers at
    her laboring lover ....
                                  Mary! Mary Ann!
    Settle for sandwiches! settle for stocking caps!
    for sudden blood, aborted carnival,
    the props and niceties of non-loneliness—
    the rhymes of Leaning.

    Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Blackstone Rangers,” from Blacks (Chicago: Third World Press, 1987).[/FIELDSET]
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