Gwendolyn Brooks - Born Topeka, Kansas 1917, died Chicago 2000
1950- became first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize
1968 to 2000- Poet Laureate of the state of Illinois
1985 to 1986 Poet Laureate Consultant to The Library of Congress
A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Son- The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson is a captivating biography of one of the most famous literary chroniclers of the experiences of African Americans. Most of her poems and fiction is set in Chicago, where she grew up in a loving and culturally nourishing home. Her father, into the reading life as was his daughter, gave up his dreams of medical school to work as a janitor to support his family. Her mother, portrayed as not overtly highly affectionate by Jackson, strongly encouraged Brooks to become a poet, writing of the experiences of African Americans in inner city Chicago.
Jackson tells us how the Outbreak of World War II, America joined in 1939, opened up lots of jobs in Chicago for African Americans. Thousands came up from the south to take these jobs, hoping to build better lives. They faced then not illegal discrimination in housing, they could only live in certain parts of Chicago, and jobs and were often made to carry within a sense of inferiority. Brooks brilliance shown through early in her life, she may have been personally sheltered but she observed the lives of the neighbors in the building her family lived in for a long time while she was growing up. She saw the problems of women, struggling to feed their children, often working as maids themselves while trying to cope with their often less than reliable husbands.
Jackson shows us the literary career path of Brooks, starting out writing for newspapers aimed only at African Americans, going on to have her work published by major houses to winning many awards, winning the Pulitzer Prize, which completely changed her life. Brooks became a highly sought speaker, a mentor to many young writers, sponsoring awards with her own money. She also became an English and Poetry teacher in a Chicago college.
Through it all she was a dedicated mother to her two children. Her marriage was sometimes strained by the stress of financial problems before she became famous and this caused a separation for a year but over all she had a good marriage to a Man himself a first rate Poet who worked at a variety of jobs to support the family.
Jackson's depiction of the trip of Brooks and her husband to African was very interesting. She went to Ghana and Kenya, as the guest of the government. Brooks was a bit surprised when the residents of these countries saw her not as a returning African but just as an American. She made an emotionally disturbing visit to places that were used as debarkation stations for slaves bound for America.
Jackson elegantly presents Brooks as a great artist, a person with wonderful values, loved and highly respected by all. One could only call her a genuinely good and decent person.
Jackson explicates her major works and quotes generously from her work. Jackson shows how the poetry and prose, she wrote some experimental novels also, arose from and rose above the early life experience of Brooks.
The book could easily be read by young adults. Brooks is a frequently taught poet in America.
A lot of her work can be found online so I Hope she would not mind if I Shared the poem below with my readers.
"To Those Of My Sisters
Who Kept Their Naturals"
-- never to look a hot comb in the teeth
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Sisters! I love you. Because you love you. Because you are erect. Because you are also bent. In season, stern, kind. Crisp, soft-in season. And you withhold. And you extend. And you Step out. And you go back. And you extend again.
Your eyes, loud-soft, with crying and with smiles, are older than a million years, And they are young. You reach, in season. And All below the rich rouch right time of your hair.
You have not bought Blondine. You have not hailed the hot-comb recently. You never worshipped Marilyn Monroe. You say: Farrah's hair is hers. You have not wanted to be white. Nor have you testified to adoration of that state with the advertisement of imitation (never successful because the hot-comb is laughing too.)
But oh the rough dark Other music! the Real, the Right. The natural Respect of Self and Seal!
Your hair is Celebration in the world! - end
In the interest of full disclosure I was kindly given a copy of this book for review purposes.
School libraries should include this book. Teachers will find material students to which their students can relate. Literary Biography lovers will be very glad they read this work.