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Chicago and Urbana-Champaign are Gwendolyn Brooks’s Archive’s Kind of Towns

By Harriet Staff


According to the Chicago Tribune, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has acquired Gwendolyn Brooks’s archive! Highlights from the archive include spiral-bound notebooks with lists documenting what she ate alongside daily notes and diary entries, letter correspondences, and issues of TV Guide (with her writing on them, of course). Also, apparently she only rarely ate ice cream.

For the last few decades of Gwendolyn Brooks’ life, the venerated poet chronicled everything she ate in spiral-bound notebooks, each about the size of a 3- by 5-inch index card.

In between her daily menus, which featured mostly healthy foods save for the occasional ice cream, she wrote ideas for poems, responses to stories she saw on the news and jottings about world events.

“It is mind-boggling,” said Nora Brooks Blakely, Brooks’ daughter and a theater teacher at DuSable Leadership Academy. “Mama wrote on literally everything …. She wrote in small notebooks, she wrote on books, in TV Guides, in other magazines, on letters that people sent to her, and these notes help give a sense of her, a sense of the times she lived in.”

The notebooks and miscellaneous papers are part of the large archive of Brooks material that was recently sold to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for an undisclosed amount. The 150 boxes delivered to the library in September are stuffed with Brooks’ fastidious notes, drafts of her poems, awards, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, hand-bound books of early, unpublished prose, and annotated correspondence with writers such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright.

In 1950, Brooks, who was born in Kansas but lived almost all of her life in Chicago, became the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, earning the accolade in the poetry category for her second collection, “Annie Allen.” Brooks received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her critically acclaimed first collection, “A Street in Bronzeville,” released in 1945. For 32 years, until her death in 2000, Brooks was the Illinois poet laureate, a position she used to encourage children to read and write. […]

Continue reading at Chicago Tribune.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, January 6th, 2014 by Harriet Staff.