A Poet Who Knew It

Brooks2Gwendolyn Brooks @ 100

Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, highly influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was a much-honored poet, even in her lifetime, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period. Her body of work gave her, according to critic George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.” From poetryfoundation.org.

And now its time to celebrate the life of this remarkable poet, 100 years on.

100 libraries, museums, and cultural centers all over the state have agreed to celebrate the centennial.

A little over a week after the 100th anniversary of her birth, “Matter in the Margins: Gwendolyn Brooks at 100,” an exhibition at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, opens tomorrow, June 16, showcasing selections from Gwendolyn Brooks’s personal archives. Brooks was an inveterate note-taker and self-chronicler, and her archives are filled with Post-Its, hotel stationery, and other scraps of paper on which she recorded her daily life and current events. She sketched out future plans and recorded meaningful memories in the fly-leaves of notebooks and on the backs of photographs, and she interrogated others’ ideas and narratives in the margins of letters she received and books she read. Here, the poet worked out the process of becoming, raising important questions about completion, authority, self-fashioning, and memory.

For more information on the Gwendolyn Brooks and the centennial celebration you can visit the official “Celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks @ 100” site here.

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