Poem Sampler

Gwendolyn Brooks at 100

The life and influence of one of America’s most celebrated poets.
By The Editors
Gwendolyn Brooks

So what do we do with a poet who was generous to her community, faithful to her family, and loved by everyone?...How do we account for, and do justice to, her talent?”
 —Danielle Chapman

Few American writers have been as influential, acclaimed, and consistently subversive as Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000). Best known for her shorter lyrics, such as “We Real Cool”—a poem which first appeared in Poetry magazine in 1959—Brooks produced a prolific body of work in her lifetime, ranging from meditations on mass riots to experimental fiction. A mentor to multiple poets in the Black Arts Movement, Brooks addressed many social issues throughout her career, such as poverty, injustice, and the intersections of race and womanhood, while becoming Poet Laureate of Illinois and the first black author to receive a Pultizer Prize. In the years following her death, her work has inspired a new form of poetry—the Golden Shovel—as well as numerous odes and responses to her work from poets such as Etheridge Knight and Patricia Smith.

The following articles, poems, and audio resources commemerate the centenary of one of America’s most beloved and respected poets.


Featured Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

And shall I prime my children, pray, to pray?”
—Gwendolyn Brooks, “The Children of the Poor”

"The Children of the Poor"
"The Lovers of the Poor"
"the mother"
"A Sunset of the City"
"We Real Cool"
"when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story"

"kitchenette building"

More poems by Gwendolyn Brooks 

Articles on Gwendolyn Brooks

Her greatest lesson to us all is that serving one’s community as an artist means much more than just creating art.”
Haki Madhubuti

Introduction: June 2017, by Don Share
Gwendolyn Brooks speaks to us more vividly than ever.
Mundane and Plural, by David Baker
Gwendolyn Brooks’s “Riot.”
Brooks’s Prosody: Three Sermons on the Warpland, by Carl Phillips
The Eros in Democracy, by Meghan O'Rourke
“An Aspect of Love, Alive in the Ice and Fire.”
“Velvety Velour” and Other Sonnet Textures, by Christina Pugh
Gwendolyn Brooks’s “The Children of the Poor.”
From “A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun”, by Angela Jackson
The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks.
Family Pictures, Old & New, by Adrian Matejka
Gwendolyn Brooks 101, by Danielle Chapman
A brief analysis of Brooks's major poems
Art, Artifice, and Artifact, by Quraysh Ali Lansana
On Brooks & Hip Hop
Lights and Shadows, by Delaney Hall:
An examination of the history of Brooks and The Chicago Defender
Gwendolyn Brooks, by Patricia Smith
Smith on encountering Brooks in their mutual hometown of Chicago
The Roads Taken, by Haki Madhubuti
On attending a poetry workshop led by Brooks
Sweet Bombs, by Danielle Chapman
A review of The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Elizabeth Alexander
Introduction: The Golden Shovel, by Don Share
Poetry magazine's editor introduces a portfolio of Golden Shovel poems, poems in which the last word of each line has been taken from a Brooks poem to create an original work
Gwendolyn Brooks: “kitchenette building”, by Hannah Brooks-Motl
This poem guide gives historical context to and analysis of Brooks' poem

More prose on Gwendolyn Brooks


Blog Posts on Gwendolyn Brooks

That Brooks, with her uniquely wonderful blend of brilliance and curiosity, ambition and selflessness, was born in just the right time and place for a young black woman to be encouraged in her literary aspirations and nurtured in her art—this, too, was a miracle.
Evie Shockley

Sundays in Satin: The Eloquence of Gwendolyn Brooks, by Afaa Michael Weaver
I was having afternoon tea with Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, the grand lady of African American poetry...
Against Miracles, by Evie Shockley
“It was not natural. And she was the first.” With these words, June Jordan opens her incisive and deeply moving essay on poet Phillis Wheatley...
Poems That Listen: A Celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Centennial, by Quraysh Ali Lansana
The first of a series of posts honoring Gwendolyn Brooks during the month of her 100th birthday. An Exceeding Sun: Michael Anania on Gwendolyn Brooks, by Simone Muench
When Quraysh Ali Lansana first invited me to blog about Gwendolyn Brooks, I was elated to be allowed this opportunity to write about such an influential American poet and Chicago icon...
'It's Got a Backbeat, You Can't Lose It': The Rhythm of 'We Real Cool', by Matthew Yeager
Like you, I first met Ms. Brooks outside the famous Golden Shovel...
Chasing Ms. Brooks, by Randall Horton
My initial encounter with Ms. Brooks occurred year two of an eight-year bid in a medium/max facility at Roxbury Correctional Center...
Gwendolyn Brooks at 100, by Cheryl Clarke
What always amazes me about this poem, from Gwendolyn Brooks’s first collection, is the way the child-narrator fantasizes a defiant transformation into a grown woman...
Snapshots in a Family Album: Maud Martha, a Poet’s Narrative, by Sandra Jackson-Opoku
“It is the power of her imagination that allows her to be at once aware of her position in the world, but not complacent..."
Just as Bronze: Memories of the West Side & Gwendolyn Brooks, by Patricia Smith
First, you’ve got to know about Chicago's West Side. Not the West Side of right now, with bland, suspicious dwellings sprouting up in the dead of night...


Podcasts on Gwendolyn Brooks

“As the entire country [was] in the midst of upheaveal, artists of conscious—Brooks foremost among them— [were] saying, “How can my work serve and speak to this moment?”
Elizabeth Alexander

Gwendolyn Brooks: Essential American Poets
Archival audio from 1961 of Brooks reading her own work
Poetry Off the Shelf: The Poet and the Riot
Elizabeth Alexander and Haki Madhubuti discuss Brooks' "RIOT"
Poetry Off the Shelf: Recasting Gwendolyn
Danielle Chapman on the lack of scholarly attention paid to Brooks
Poetry Lectures: Gwendolyn Brooks
Brooks speaking at Poetry Day in Chicago, 1990, an event sponsored by the Poetry Foundation
Poetry Off the Shelf: The Poetry of Close Quarters
A discussion of Brooks’ poem "kitchenette building"
Poem Talk: After the Night Years
Al Filreis and others discuss "Truth" by Brooks and “The Sun Came,” by Etheridge Knight

More audio content on Gwendolyn Brooks


Videos on Gwendolyn Brooks



Matter in the Margins: Gwendolyn Brooks at 100
This exhibition showcases highlights from the literary archives of Brooks.

Read more about Gwendolyn Brooks here and discover more of her poems, prose, and additional content here.

Originally Published: March 27th, 2017