Matter in the Margins: Gwendolyn Brooks at 100

Sketch of Gwendolyn Brooks

This exhibition showcases highlights from the literary archives of Gwendolyn E. Brooks (1917–2000), Illinois Poet Laureate and the first black winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Brooks’s papers include youthful poetry and prose, scrapbooks of pieces she published as a young woman, extensive correspondence with a significant roster of other writers, and manuscript drafts and proofs, especially after she left mainstream publishing to produce her works with black-owned presses.

Gwendolyn Brooks was an inveterate note-taker and self-chronicler, and the collection is 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 flyleaves 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. Through these marginal jottings, Brooks destabilized the idea of finality: their presence transforms seemingly finished, self-contained documents into ongoing conversations and works in progress. This exhibition highlights the ways in which Brooks’ annotations bring attention to the margin as a space that matters. Here, the poet worked out the process of becoming, raising important questions about completion, authority, self-fashioning, and memory.

The Brooks archives are now part of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and have been loaned to the Poetry Foundation in celebration of Brooks’ long relationship with Poetry, a history that includes the first publication of We Real CoolThe Bean Eaters, and Winnie, among others. These artifacts are displayed amidst a dedicatory installation by Tyrue “Slang” Jones. Slang is a Chicago native and considered one of the most diverse contemporary urban artists of the last four decades. His influence is cemented worldwide as a graffiti, street, and commercial artist as well as muralist. He pushes the boundaries of traditional graffiti letterforms through technical mastery meshed with rhythmic expression.

Exhibition Events

Exhibition Opening and Gallery Talk with curator Anna Chen
Friday, June 16th, 6:00 PM

Riding and Striding, Reaching and Teaching: A Short Film of a Day in the Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
Wednesday, June 28th, 12:00 PM

Exhibit Hours

Monday — Friday, 11 AM — 4 PM

Select Saturdays

June 24, 10 AM – 3 PM; July 15, 11 AM – 4 PM;  August 12, 11 AM – 4 PM

Friday, June 16, 2017 – Friday, August 25, 2017