Bio: Gwendolyn Brooks (June 7, 1917-December 3, 2000)


January 9, 2009 | Revised: January 16, 2018

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917 to David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims in Topeka, Kansas. Shortly thereafter, when she was an infant, the family relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where she grew up and resided all her life. Her father was a janitor, for his ambition to attend medical school to become a doctor was unfulfilled due to monetary issues; her mother was a teacher and a classical trained pianist.

Brooks had a passion for reading and writing and found great support from her parents. In fact, in 1930, she published her first poem, “Eventide,” in American Childhood at the age of thirteen. Although her parents were supportive and loving, they were also strict and did not allow her to play with the neighborhood kids; instead, they encouraged her to remain in her literature and provided her with the educational tools to do so. Her home was stable, but the same cannot be said for her schools, where she encountered racial prejudice. She first attended an all-white school, Hyde Park High School (now called Hype Park Career Academy); she later transfer to an all-black high school, Wendell Phillips, before settling at an integrated school, Englewood High School. While attending Englewood, her mother, in 1933, introduced her to Harlem Renaissance prominent poets Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. Meeting these Black writers was not only advantageous but inspirational. After taking Johnson’s advice to read and study modern poets, Brooks began reading the work of Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, and others alike. After meeting Hughes at the Metropolitan Community Church, he told her to seriously think of writing professionally after reading a few poems she had with her.

In 1934, she graduated from Englewood High School and found employment with the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper, where she had an adjunct position. During this time, she attended Wilson Junior College (now Kennedy-King College), for two years, graduating in 1936; she never attended a four-year university because she thought it was unnecessary for her writing career. As a staff of the Chicago Defender, she published more than seventy-five poems in its poetry section called “Lights and Shadows”; however, she was not given a full-time position. She later worked briefly as a maid and secretary in a slum apartment building known as The Mecca, managed by a spiritual charlatan/slumlord. She was not too fond of any of these humiliating job experiences as described in her poetry.

In 1938, she joined the Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In a Youth Council meeting she met Henry Lowington Blakely II and married him on September 17, 1939; their son, Henry Blakely, Jr., was born a year later.

To improve her poetic techniques, Brooks enrolled in poetry workshops taught by a rich Chicagoan named Inez Cunningham Stark at the South Side Community Art Center, from 1941 to 1942. Under the guidance of Stark, Brooks admitted she became a better poet. Indeed, the workshops were advantageous, for in 1943 she won the poetry award from Midwestern Writers’ Conference in Chicago.

In 1945, she gained fame and praise with the release of her first book of poetry, A Street in Brownsville, published by Harper. She was selected by now-defunct Mademoiselle magazine as one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year,” and received other respected honors. In 1946, she was awarded the National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Guggenheim Fellowship; she won the latter award for a second time in 1947.

The years of 1949 and 1950 were special and momentous for Brooks. She published her second book of poetry called Annie Allen (1949) and won the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine. Most important, in 1950, it earned her the most prestigious award that one could receive, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Not only did she win such noted and noble prize, but she made history by becoming the first African American to be crowned this award. Annie Allen brought her countrywide fame and firmly established her as a key voice in modern American literature. Brooks, in 1951, received her most precious prize by giving birth to her second child, a daughter named Nora Blakely.

At this point in her life, she was at the highest pinnacle of her career and continued publishing her work of literature through Harper and Row. In 1953, she published her only work of fiction called Maud Marta; in 1956, she published Bronzeville Boys and Girls, a book of verses intended for a young audience. At the height of the Civil Rights movement and her growing awareness of social and racial disparities, Brooks published her third collection of poetry titled The Bean Eaters in 1960, which occupies a much-anthologized and famous poem, “We Real Cool.” This poem represents the perils of young Black boys and their refusal to attend school, but find joy at a poolroom facility, which may serve as a death sentence if such behaviors continue.

In 1962, Brooks read at the Library of Congress poetry festival via an invitation from then-President John F. Kennedy. She began her first teaching job at Chicago’s Columbia College in 1963 (and received an honorary degree from the college in 1964). In fact, she taught creative writing at other institutions including Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Impressively, she was awarded more than seventy-five honorary degrees from various colleges and universities.

A defining moment in Brooks’ career occurred in 1967 when she attended the Fisk University Second Black Writers’ Conference in Nashville, Tennessee (where she rediscovered her blackness). Subsequent to her attendance, she became more involved in the Black Arts movement and her poetic voice was tailored accordingly to fit the change. The change is evident in her 1968 book of poetry, In the Mecca, and her following work. Her poetic voice was not heavily altered, but some critics claimed her work presented an angrier tone. According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Vol. E), “her subjects tend to be more explicitly political and to deal with questions of revolutionary violence and issues of African American identity.” In truth, many Black writers at the time wrote stimulating and angry poetry, precipitated by the Civil Rights/Black Power movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther king, Jr. in 1968. Being in touch with the Black Arts movement and wanting to support Black businesses, Brooks left her New York publisher, Harper & Row, and decided to publish her work with African American publishers. In 1968, Brooks received a National Book Award nomination for In the Mecca and became the Poet Laureate of Illinois.

During her life, Brooks published more than twenty-five books that garnered her many accolades, imprinting her place in history as one of the best contemporary writers. On top of winning her most recognized award (the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry), Brooks served as a poetry consultant to The Library of Congress in 1985 and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988. Another honor worth mentioning came in 1994 when she was selected as the Jefferson Lecturer by National Endowment for the Humanities, the highest federal government award given for distinguished scholarly achievement in the humanities.

On Sunday, December 3, 2000, Brooks died of cancer in her Chicago home at the age of 83; she was buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois. Brooks inspired many during her lifetime and continues to inspire many today. She left behind a rich legacy that will be long-lasting for generations to come. Her poetry will be a constant study in college classrooms and elsewhere. Her name will be mentioned when great poets are named and when anthologies are rendered. Alice Walker once said in an interview, “If there was ever a born poet, I think it is Brooks.” Not only was she a born poet, but she was truly an amazing poet who employed her poetic language with profound richness and influence.

Her legacy remains robust: In 2001, the Chicago Public Schools system renamed a high school in her honor to Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, a four-year magnet high school. In 2002, Brooks made the list of the 100 Greatest African Americans via an encyclopedia by professor Molefi Kete Asante; in 2010, she was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame; in 2012, the United States Postal Service honored Brooks with a specialized postage stamp. The honors after her death are countless; these are only a few.

Appropriately, Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks will always be remembered as one of the best and respected African American poets, not to mention one of the most distinguished American literary figures.

The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Vol. E) Sixth Edition (2003)
https: // (Retrieval date Jan. 10, 2009)
http: // (Retrieval date Jan. 10, 2009)

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Originally published Jan. 10, 2009 via now-defunct writing Web site


Poetry Analysis: “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound


Ezra Pound was a rebel and wanted to do things his way in regard to poetry – and so he did.  In the introduction of The Norton Anthology of American Literature (Volume D), it states:  “Pound first campaigned for ‘imagistic,’ his name for a new kind of poetry.  Rather than describing something – an object or situation – and then generalizing about it, imagist poets attempted to present the object directly, avoiding the ornate diction and complex but predictable verse forms of traditional poetry.”

Pound’s 1913 poem “In a Station of the Metro” demonstrates his imagistic motif in a couple of lines:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

This short piece illustrates his imagistic talent because the entire poem deals with images alone.  It is not complex; rather, the two-line poem is straightforward and to the point.  The brevity of the poem intrigues with a deep message regarding the beauty and diversity of human beings.

One word that overshadows all the rest in line one is apparition.  The word apparition alone means a ghostly figure, something strange or unusual that suddenly comes into view.  Pound may have seen different faces in a Paris subway and defined the “faces in the crowd” with the illustration of pure beauty or images of flawless human beings.  The reason for formulating such assertion is because of this:  with the meaning and usage of the word apparition, it enables Pound to convey the expression of shock and awe once he steps into the metro station.  It’s almost as if he discovers the faces in the crowd surprisingly.  More important, he may have not seen the faces clearly and saw only a blur that he interpreted as a vision of attractiveness.

The second line of the poem renders one word that overshadows all the rest:  petals.  Petals are vibrant flowers that have different colors and represent beauty when blossomed, which he identifies as the “faces in the crowd.”  Additionally, petals are flowers that come in various shades, sizes, shapes, and so forth – akin to human beings.  Therefore, Pound perhaps envisioned the people in the crowd as beautiful, for the diversity they embodied.

In all, the poem is incredibly short – but meaningful – and takes the meaning of short poetry to its purest form.  However, the images are captivating and make the poem move beyond the literal, for the two images that stand out are apparition and petals.  When one thinks of apparition, the first thing that comes to mind is a ghostly figure.  When one thinks of petals, something soft and delightful comes to mind as a floral.

Thus, Pound takes the two words and morphs them together as one to get a greater effect, meaning that when he witnessed mysterious faces in the crowd with various colors and shapes, it rendered a good-looking sight in his eyes.  The poem shows that whatever color, size, or shape a person embodies, he or she still has some characteristics of beauty – regardless of his/her outer appearance.
[Originally Written January 18, 2008]

The Mentality of White Supremacists


July 13, 2016

We will continue to shoot and kill Black people, because we truthfully view your existence as a threat to our society.  We view your lives as a cancer to not only America but humanity.  When we shoot, we will shoot to execute without any hesitation – for we are gods.  We are the decision-makers on whether you live or die – and the latter takes priority.  We hold the ultimate gavel.  We will not only shoot you one time, two times, three times but more than four times to ensure that you are dead.   We will watch your body spasm in distress.  We will watch you suffer as you take your last breath.  We will watch the blood vessels in your eye sockets engulf your vision until darkness becomes permanent.  We will watch blood escape your undeserving body that allowed you to function as an organism.  We will be erected firmly above your body with guns drawn until we are certain that every organ in your body shuts down.

Your loss neither moves us emotionally nor does it pain us.  We have zero empathy for your lives and feelings.  We joyfully watch your families on television as their tears flow uncontrollably.  We watch you reminisce about the good times while you are consoled.  We have finalized that physical bond.  When more opportunities present themselves, we will continue to finalize those bonds, whether you show compliance or not.  We will leave you with the lasting memory of caskets of your sons and daughters.

We will hire lawyers to argue that our lives were in danger, giving us no choice but to use deadly force.  We will lie and fabricate plausible stories, for we know our tongues hold more weight than yours.  We will provide a false narrative to the media, for we are the creation and ownership of facts.  We will focus on your past criminal record and maintain you have a history of violence.  If need be, we will excavate your elementary-school records to show any punishments that resulted from disobedience to further push the narrative of criminality.

If we are brought to trial, we will make sure that the jury is dominated by white faces.  At the end of the day, we will go home to our wives and children. We will WALK FREE and maintain our freedom, while Black families remain shock at a criminal justice system that always favored white – but never cared for your pain and plight.

The relentless assault on your suffering will be advertised nationwide.  When you turn on the television, cable-news anchors will argue how the facts show that the killings were justified.  We will employ and invite adequate Black faces to fight on our behalf – and criticize Black society for its misfortunes with authority. We will find the most menacing photographs to televise while we blame both you and them for their demise.  Because we control the media, we control the message.  We will attack you on all fronts, for we are the ownership of mass media.

When you scream “Black Lives Matter,” we will scream “all lives matter,” even though we know the system allows us to kill you with impunity.  When you cry “Black Lives Matter,” we will deflect and inquire about Black-on-Black crimes when we know it has no correlation to police-involved shootings.  When you question the criminal justice system, we will argue that the system is fair to everyone.  We will do everything and anything to justify our positions.  We will relentlessly lie until we naturally believe our own lies.  We will divert the conversation and put the blame on you every time.

You will have no choice but to pray to God, sing hymns, and forgive us for our crimes and sins. We demand that you forgive us, forgive us, forgive us – and love us and move on by accepting the ruling of the courts. More important, we demand that you have sympathy for our families during our trying times of recovery.

We will be fired and banned from joining another trigger-happy department.  However, we are a team; when we are sent home, we have enough soldiers to continue the work of harassment and violence.  We will provide special attention and harass you everywhere: on the sidewalk, on school campuses, in the park, in the workplace, inside your car, inside your houses, and everywhere you make a presence.

We do not care if you are educated with various college degrees.  We do not care if you are sickened with a disease.  We do not care if your ensemble resembles a three-piece suit.  We do not care if your ensemble resembles a baggy jean, a baseball cap, and chukka boots.  We do not care if you are a Black man or a Black woman – let alone if you are accompanied by your children.  It does not matter if you look suspicious or not; we will stop you, interrogate you, and antagonize you. If you become fidgety or belligerent, we will brutalize you.

We will infiltrate all of your organizations with Black operatives until they implode to nonexistence.

We want you to be devoid of self-preservation, self-respect – and self-pride. We expect you to be docile like chained dogs.  Anything that does not meet complete subjugation and compliance will be met with violence.

We work together as a team, directly and indirectly; we are ubiquitous.

We are professors at your colleges and universities.  We are managers at your workplace.   We are the CEOs at your corporations.  We are the pimp-preachers at your churches.  We are owners and executives of the major-professional-sports teams in your cities.  We are your politicians.  We are the unseen lens.  We are an institution; call it a conglomerate of endless entities.  We are everywhere, for we are a system of white dominance – and white supremacy.

Poetry Analysis: “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks


“We Real Cool” definitely has a powerful message behind it.  Gwendolyn Brooks illustrates the essence of troubled teenagers who will eventually suffer the ill-fated possibility that life renders human beings while engaging in the lifestyle of the streets – death.

The teenagers are obviously not too fond about attending school.  Therefore, they skip and find solace and pleasure at a pool facility.  It seems as if the teenagers really don’t care about their education and go day by day living a happy-go-lucky lifestyle.  The happiness that they are feeling by playing pool supports that theory.

They sing.  They drink.  They ignore the seriousness of life and their future.  In all, they do anything to capture that feeling of ecstasy.  A nonchalant attitude about the players’ personas clearly resonates throughout the poem.

The constant usage of the word “We” may indicate that these boys are proclaiming their arrival at the pool facility as if they have been there before.  The bottom line is apparent:  The seven young men find their comfort at the poolroom, rather than school.

For the most part, the tone of the poem is very upbeat, while simultaneously presenting a dark atmosphere.  The entertainment the boys are engaging in presents happiness. However, the actions of the boys present bleakness with the placements of the words “Lurk late,” “Sing sin,” and “Thin gin.”

These words carry unpleasant meanings.  “Lurk” implies sneakiness with the intent of doing something wrong. “Sin” implies a moral and/or criminal wrongdoing. Being that these boys are street people, it is safe to argue that criminal activities may occur via “lurk[ing] late” at night.  “Gin,” an alcoholic beverage, is not an unpleasant term; however, in the context of the poem, it implies that these boys are drinking heavily (via “Thin”) and could possibly become intoxicated, causing an unpleasant outcome.

The unpleasant tone of the poem amplifies dramatically at the end with the following statement:  “We die soon.”  This one line alone does not only present a chilling end but firmly cements their future.

In a more in depth analysis of the final line (which refers to death), the subtitle of the poem states:  THE POOL PLAYERS.  SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.  The number “seven” has the aura of good fortune while the boys shoot pool.  Moreover, the word “golden” typifies prosperity and happiness, akin to how the boys are feeling.  However, the word “shovel” signifies an ominous sign, relating to death, casket, funeral and later burial.  Brooks implies that street people will eventually die soon.  These young boys are obviously street people because they are not in school.

They live a carefree life and they could not care less about attending school, because they find it tedious.  They lack the presence of mind to grasp the importance of what school offers at the moment and how beneficial it would serve them in the future.  Such carefree mindset will present difficulties as these young boys seek employment.

Their lives have no direction and they don’t really care about anything – not even their wellbeing for the future.  They have no sense of themselves and are not aware of the importance of education, which will sooner or later become their downfall.

Their poor decision serves them no advantages in any way, because they will not be active participants in society.  Without a high school diploma, their journey to find a decent job will be limited.  Such difficulty may possibly turn the boys into criminals to obtain easy money.

Moreover, these young men are clearly dropouts and perhaps Black, supported by the lingo of the poem.  In fact, the title, “We Real Cool,” breaks the rule of proper English because it presents a slang dialect.

Even though the poem was written in 1960, it mirrors the situation of today, for many young boys and even young girls skip school every day – not to mention those who dropout.

Gwendolyn Brooks does an excellent job with this piece.  With its monosyllabic and eight-line stature, the poem is short, straightforward, and to the point.

“We Real Cool” represents an impressive piece that has a profound implication:  No education (i.e., skipping an institution of schooling that provides knowledge) and living a carefree lifestyle as a dropout will most likely lead to an unfortunate end – death.