From the Archive: Gwendolyn Brooks
"I see myself at fourteen—when I first began to pound at the gates of the magazine Poetry! It was fourteen-year siege. But the rejection slips gradually gentled. Finally, in 1944, Paul Engle of Iowa sent a group of my poems to the editors—and at last I was starred in the cherished magazine that above all others poets have considered The Goal."
It has been sixty-two years since Gwendolyn Brooks first graced the pages of Poetry with "Gay Chaps at the Bar" and "Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity..." That first appearance was only the beginning of a cherished relationship between Poetry and the Pulitzer Prize winner and one-time Poet Laureate of Illinois, who grew up on Chicago's South Side and was a fervent reader and writer of poetry by an age when most other children are content with hop scotching in the park. Her prolific career included over twenty books of poetry, five collections of prose, and one novel, in addition to numerous awards, fellowships and other honors.
Brooks artistic tenacity was matched in-kind by her inexhaustible commitment to social and political activism (she was a prominent member of the NAACP, at one time serving as its publicity director) and investment in various literary awards and advocacy programs. As her own poetic career flourished, the self-proclaimed "organic Chicagoan" devoted much of her time to mentoring young black writers in her community and beyond. She was an eminent force in both the Chicago renaissance of the 1940's and the Chicago Black Arts movement. Today, several institutions throughout the state of Illinois bear her name, including the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University. Her personal impact was stunningly apparent at the time of her death in December 2000 at the age of 83, when family, friends, colleagues and admirers the world over braved one of the fiercest snowstorms in Chicago's recent history to pay tribute to the life and work of a woman who was perhaps best described by Bruce Cutler in his review of her Selected Poems (Poetry, March 1964) as simply "one of the very best poets."
For October, as Danielle Chapman examines the legacy of one of America's most important and unique poetic voices, we invite you into the Poetry archives to enjoy a selection of Gwendolyn Brooks' work which, we are honored to say, first found a home in our pages.
TWO POEMS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED IN POETRY MAGAZINE
We Real Cool
The Bean Eaters