Friday, February 01, 2019

For the Love of Words: A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Fay Gordon

Sing a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud--a Chicago blues.

Chicago in the 1920s was not the typical place for a poet--not a place to wander lonely as a cloud, not a place where hosts of daffodils delight the eye. It was smoky and noisy and the streets were shadowed by the elevated train tracks. Not many flowers bloomed.

But Gwendolyn Brooks was a poet. Perhaps she didn't know it when she bought dime store notebooks and started to write in them. At first she didn't love her words.

She digs beneath the snowball bush,
And buries her poems in a backyard grave.

And once, when she wrote a poem for school, the teacher didn't believe it was her work. She called it plagiarism. But Gwendolyn's mother put on her hat and gloves and marched her precocious daughter down to the school. She confronted the teacher and told the teacher that her daughter "writes with ease," and to prove it, she had Gwendolyn sit down and write a poem called "Forgive and Forget" on the spot:

If others neglect you, forget: do not sigh.
For, after all, they'll select you in times by and by.

If their taunts cut and hurt you, they are sure to regret.
And if in time they desert you, forgive and forget.

And with the help of both parents'support and encouragement, Gwendolyn keeps on writing, She spends time at the South Side Center and meets grown-up poets who read famous sonnets and Modernist poets with her, and Gwendolyn submits her best work to magazines--and some are accepted and printed! She goes to college and learns about many great poets; she marries and has a son and still keeps on writing and rewriting her poetry and sending it off to be printed. The click-clack of the El trains blend with the steady click-clack of her typewriter.

And then one day she wins a prize--The Pulitzer Prize!

Alice Fay Duncan's just published A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks (People Who Shaped Our World) (Sterling Children's Books, 2019) tells for young readers the story of how Gwendolyn Brooks became the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer prize and become Poet Laureate of the United States.

Mr. Brooks and Mrs. Brooks
Planted love and watered it.

In a recommended first purchase for school and public libraries for Black History and Women's History reading in February and March, author Gordon provides a useful appendix with author's note, a timeline of Brooks' life, suggested readings, and a bibliography for young report writers. Artist Xia Gordon adds rosy brown illustrations that heighten the the author's metaphor of a life that flowered into a legacy of poetry.

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