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Remembering Gwendolyn Brooks at 100

Ang Santos

During a 1963 poetry reading, Gwendolyn Brooks acknowledges a lack of recognition for her large body of work.

“I guess I better offer you ‘We Real Cool’. Most young people know me only by that poem,” Brooks said.  “But I would prefer it if the textbook compilers and the anthologists would assume that I’d written a few other poems.”

Fast forward fifty plus years, Dr. Brenda Greene from The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College says not much has changed.

“Unfortunately Gwendolyn Brooks has not gotten her due.  In most anthologies you will see her poem ‘We Real Cool’, but she published so much more.,” said Greene.  “Her book ‘Annie Allen’ was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and then during the Black Arts Movement, she began to change the focus of her writing somewhat.”

Author Quraysh Ali Lansana was close to Gwendolyn Brooks.  He feels the critical interpretation of her work changed as time moved on.

“I think a part of that is she chose to walk away from Harper & Row, from big time New York City publishing, and publish with black presses Broadside Press first, then Third World Press,” said Lansana.  “There are some noted poets and scholars today who believe and have written that they feel as if she dumbed down her art to create a service literature.”

Credit Ang Santos / WBGO
NY State Senator Kevin Parker issued a proclamation to Gwendolyn Brooks and the National Black Writers Conference Biennial Symposium.

Third World Press out of Chicago still publishes Gwendolyn Brooks in posthumous volumes of poetry.  Press co-founder Haki Madhubuti recalls how much Ms. Brooks enjoyed participating in poetry readings.

“Everyplace she went, she would sit down after a poetry reading to sign books, she would stay till the last person.  You had lines of fifty to sixty people and she would stop each person then talk to that person as if she had known that person for some time”

Madhubuti says Chicago is preparing a city wide celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks for her birthday on June 7th.  He hopes other cities and institutions follow suit. 

“This is her centennial.  This is like a jumpstart for a whole new generation to read and appreciate her work.”