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Creating to Inspire Social Change: A Brief Look into Gwendolyn Brooks

The following is a guest post by Chandel Boozer, spring 2021 law clerk in the Office of Policy and International Affairs.

Image and name of Gwendolyn Brooks for article headerIn the United States, authors can share their unique perspectives based on their varying life experiences, ethnicities, and beliefs. Amongst those authors, poets have the ability to succinctly capture an emotion or experience with their words. An exceptional and influential poet enables their readers to see those varying life experiences and perspectives, and compels their readers to think critically.

Gwendolyn Brooks was an exceptional and influential poet, whose talent was to engulf her readers in her world. Her life experiences growing up as a Black woman in Chicago influenced her poetry.[1] Brooks published Annie Allen in 1949, which focused on an African American girl nearing adulthood in Chicago and touched upon social issues within that experience.[2] In May 1950, Annie Allen would win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, making Brooks the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize.[3] Brooks described her poetry style as “folksy narrative.”[4] Her ability to use language lyrically to reflect her culture and heritage while immersing her readers in a story she was telling made her a distinctive and renowned writer.

Portrait photograph of Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks holding her book A Street in Bronzeville.

Throughout her career, Brooks registered a multitude of works with the Copyright Office. In 1949, she registered Annie Allen and A Street in Bronzeville, her first book of poetry.[5] Her only novel, Maud Martha, was registered with the Office in 1953.[6] During the civil rights era, Brooks registered poems titled “Medgar Evers” in 1964 and “Malcolm X” in 1967, viewing both men as Black heroes.[7] She also wrote and registered poems about other poets that she admired. She registered “Langston Hughes” in 1967 and “Henry Rago” in 1969.[8] Brooks met Hughes and Rago when she was a young writer and grew to have friendships with both men.[9] In addition to registering her works with the Copyright Office, in 1985, Brooks became the first Black woman to be appointed as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and the Library of Congress holds many of her works.[10]

Card from card catalogue for 1949 registration of "Annie Allen" by Gwendolyn Brooks

Catalog card for the 1949 registration of Annie Allen.

I admire Brooks for embracing her culture and heritage and sharing her perspectives through her passion for poetry. Brooks’s poem “To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals” resonates with me because I have natural hair, and it was a process to learn to love something I was socialized to hate.[11] For me, the poem represents self-acceptance and love, which is a message that can be shared with anyone no matter their background. Gwendolyn Brooks would have been 104 years old today, so it is only right to wish her a happy birthday after reflecting on her influence and impact on U.S. poetry.

Sources

[1] “Gwendolyn Brooks,” Poetry Foundation, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gwendolyn-brooks.

[2] Id.

[3] “Frost? Williams? No, Gwendolyn Brooks,” The Pulitzer Prizes, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.pulitzer.org/article/frost-williams-no-gwendolyn-brooks.

[4] “Gwendolyn Brooks,” Poetry Foundation, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gwendolyn-brooks.

[5] List of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Registrations, Library of Congress, accessed March 22, 2021, //cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/doctitles.cgi?V3481D363; see also “Gwendolyn Brooks: Online Resources,” Library of Congress, accessed March 22, 2021, //www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/brooks/#:~:text=On%20May%206%2C%201985%2C%20Librarian,of%20African%20American%20urban%20life.

[6] Id.

[7] List of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Registrations, Library of Congress, accessed March 22, 2021, //cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/doctitles.cgi?V3481D363; see also Gwendolyn Brooks,” Poetry Foundation, accessed March 22, 2021, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gwendolyn-brooks; “A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” eNotes, accessed March 23, 2021, https://www.enotes.com/topics/life-gwendolyn-brooks.

[9] Betsy Schlabach, “The Love Between Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks,” African American Intellectual History Society, last updated February 13, 2017, https://www.aaihs.org/the-love-between-langston-hughes-and-gwendolyn-brooks/;  see also “A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” eNotes, accessed March 23, 2021, https://www.enotes.com/topics/life-gwendolyn-brooks.

[10] “Gwendolyn Brooks: U.S. Consultant in Poetry, 1985-1986,” Library of Congress, accessed March 23, 2021, //www.loc.gov/item/n50041281/gwendolyn-brooks/.

[11] Karen Grigsby Bates, “Remembering the Great Poet Gwendolyn Brooks at 100,” National Public Radio, last updated May 29, 2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/05/29/530081834/remembering-the-great-poet-gwendolyn-brooks-at-100.