DATE=2-18-01 TITLE=PEOPLE IN AMERICA #1809 - Gwendolyn Brooks BYLINE=Cynthia
Kirk VOICE ONE:
I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Sarah Long with the VOA Special English program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA.
Today we tell about the life of award-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks. She was the
first African American to win a (1)Pulitzer Prize for(2) Literature.
Gwendolyn Brooks wrote hundreds of(3) poems during her lifetime. She had more
than twenty books published. She was known around world for using (4)poetry to
increase understanding about black culture in America.
Gwendolyn Brooks wrote many poems about being black during the Nineteen-
Forties and Nineteen-Fifties. Her poems described conditions among the poor, (5) racial
inequality and drug use in the black community. She also wrote poems about the
struggles of black women.
But her skill was more than her ability to write about struggling black people. She
was an expert at the language of poetry. She(6) combined traditional European poetry
styles with the African American experience.
Gwendolyn Brooks once said that she wrote about what she saw and heard in the
street. She said she found most of her material looking out of the window of her second-
floor (7)apartment house in Chicago, Illinois.
In her early poetry, Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about the South Side of Chicago. The
South Side of Chicago is where many black people live. In her poems, the South Side is
called Bronzeville. It was "A Street in Bronzeville" that gained the attention of literary
experts in Nineteen-Forty-Five. Critics praised her poetic skill and her powerful
descriptions about the black experience during the time. The Bronzeville poems were her
first published collection.
Here she is reading from her Nineteen-Forty-Five collection, "A Street in
CUT ONE - GWENDOLYN BROOKS
"My father, it is surely a blue place and straight. Right, regular, where I shall find no
need for(8) scholarly nonchalance or looks a little to the left or guards upon the heart."
In Nineteen-Fifty, Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African-American to win the
Pulitzer Prize for Literature. She won the prize for her second book of poems called
"Annie Allen." "Annie Allen" is a collection of poetry about the life of a Bronzeville girl as a
daughter, a wife and mother. She experiences (9)loneliness, loss, death and being poor.
Mizz Brooks said that winning the prize changed her life.
Her next work was a novel written in Nineteen-Fifty-Three called "Maud Martha."
"Maud Martha" received little notice when it first published. But now it is considered an
important work by some critics. Its main ideas about the difficult life of many women are
popular among (10)female writers today.
Gwendolyn Brooks wrote poems about the black experience in America. She
described the anger many blacks had about racial(11) injustice and the feeling of being
different. She used poetry to (12)criticize those who did not show respect for the poor.
Yet for all the anger in her writing, Gwendolyn Brooks was considered by many to be a
(13)gentle spirit and a very giving person.
By the early Nineteen-Sixties, Mizz Brooks had reached a high(14) point in her
writing career. She was considered one of America's leading black writers. She was a
popular teacher. She was praised for her use of language and the way people
(15)identified with her writing.
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in Nineteen-Seventeen. But she grew up in Chicago. She began writing when she was eleven years old. She mailed
several poems to a (16)community newspaper in Chicago to surprise her family.
In a radio broadcast in Nineteen-Sixty-One, Mizz Brooks said her mother (17)urged
her to develop her poetic skills:
CUT TWO - GWENDOLYN BROOKS
"My mother took me to the library when I was about four or five. I enjoyed reading poetry and I tried to write it when I was about seven, at the time that I first tried to put(18)
rhymes together. And I have loved it ever since."
Gwendolyn Brooks married Henry L. Blakely in Nineteen-Thirty-Nine. Henry Blakely was a young writer who later published his own poetry. They lived in Chicago for the next
thirty years, (19) divorced in Nineteen-Sixty-Nine, but re-united in Nineteen-Seventy-
Three. They had two children, Nora Brooks Blakely and Henry Blakely.
Throughout her life, Mizz Brooks supported herself through speaking (20)appearances, poetry readings and part time teaching in colleges. She also received
money from organizations that offered grants designed to support the arts.
One of Gwendolyn Brooks most famous poems is called "We Real Cool". It is a short poem that talks about young people feeling hopeless:
"We real cool. We left school. We (21)lurk late. We strike straight. We sing sin. We
thin (22)gin. We jazz June. We die soon."
By the end of the Nineteen-Sixties, Gwendolyn Brooks's poetry expanded from the everyday experiences of people in Bronzeville. She wrote about a wider world and dealt
with important political issues. She won praise for her sharper, real-life poetic style.
Gwendolyn Brooks was affected by the civil rights struggles and social changes taking place in America. She began to question her relations with whites. She said she
felt that black poets should write for black people.
That became (23)evident in her next collection of poetry in Nineteen-Sixty-Eight
called "In the Mecca." Critics suggested Mizz Brooks had become too political and
seemed to be writing only for black people. Her new poems received little notice in the
In some of her poems, Gwendolyn Brooks' described how what people see in life is affected by who they are. One example is this poem, "Corners on the Curving Sky":
Our earth is round, and, among other things
That means that you and I can hold completely different
Points of view and both be right.
The difference of our positions will show
Stars in your window. I cannot even imagine.
Your sky may burn with light,
While mine, at the same moment,
Spreads beautiful to darkness.
Still, we must choose how we separately corner
The circling universe of our experience
Once chosen, our cornering will determine
The message of any star and darkness we
Although her poetry did not receive much notice in the press, Gwendolyn Brooks continued to receive honors. She was chosen poet (24)laureate of the state of (25)Illinois
in Nineteen-Sixty-Eight. In Nineteen-Seventy-Six, she became the first black woman to
be elected to the National (26)Institute of Arts and Letters.