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Gwendolyn Brooks. Crowther , Linnea . Gwendolyn Brooks. n.d. Legacy. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.

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Gwendolyn Brooks

Crowther, Linnea. Gwendolyn Brooks. n.d. Legacy. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2012

She is in "a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.“

George E. Kent

biography early life
Biography: Early Life
  • Born 1917- Topeka, Kansas
  • Moved to Chicago’s South Side
  • Economically disadvantaged
  • Isolated
  • Attended integrated and non-integrated schools
  • Met Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson
  • Chicago Defender
  • Wrote of poor urban Blacks and women
  • Later works were often political
  • “Raw power and roughness”
  • Influenced by blues and jazz
  • Mostly sonnets and narratives
  • “folksy narrative”
  • poems employ off-rhyme to deal with “an off-rhyme situation”
  • Some of the diction and imagery in Brooks’s sequence also has ties to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century British poetry, and the sonnets include few contemporary references and mention no battles or countries; instead, universal themes of war, death, and love emerge. This is an important part of the poet’s subliminal message: black soldiers are no different from white soldiers and should not receive separate and unequal treatment.
style cont
Style, Cont.
  • Janet Overmeyer noted in the Christian Science Monitor that Brooks's "particular, outstanding, genius is her unsentimental regard and respect for all human beings. . . . She neither foolishly pities nor condemns—she creates."
  • "From her poet's craft bursts a whole gallery of wholly alive persons, preening, squabbling, loving, weeping; many a novelist cannot do so well in ten times the space."
  • Littlejohn maintained that Brooks achieves this effect through a high "degree of artistic control," further relating, "The words, lines, and arrangements have been worked and worked and worked again into poised exactness: the unexpected apt metaphor, the mock-colloquial asides amid jewelled phrases, the half-ironic repetitions—she knows it all."
  • More important, Brooks's objective treatment of issues such as poverty and racism "produces genuine emotional tension," the critic wrote.
major themes historical perspectives and personal issues
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
  • black pride
  • black identity and solidarity
  • black humanism
  • and caritas, a maternal vision
  • racial discrimination
  • the civil rights movement of the fifties
  • black rebellion of the sixties
  • a concern with complacency in the seventies
  • black leadership.
harlem renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
  • ren·ais·sance
  • A rebirth or revival
  • A revival of intellectual or artistic achievement and vigor
  • French, from Old French, from renaistre, to be born again

originally called the New Negro Movement.

  • fostered a new black cultural identity.
  • 1920s through mid-40s.
  • an outpouring of creative expression that had long been bottled up by the constraints of segregation.
authors and works
Authors and Works
  • Creative expression was one of the few avenues available to African Americans
  • Common bond: They dealt with African American life from an African American perspective.
  • African-American-owned magazines and newspapers flourished
why harlem renaissance
Why "Harlem" Renaissance?
  • Of the almost 750,000 African Americans who moved North, nearly 175,000 moved to Harlem.
  • Harlem is a section of Manhattan, which covers three square miles; therefore, Harlem became the largest concentration of black people in the world.
triggers of harlem renaissance
Triggers of Harlem Renaissance
  • the end of World War I and the return of black veterans
  • the formation of civil rights organizations (NAACP) and black solidarity movements (UNIA)
  • the ascendance of Harlem as the "Negro capital of the world"
  • a new sense of economic, social, and cultural potential

Folk Ballads

  • A song/narrative poem transmitted that tells a story
  • Focuses on one incident
  • Begins in the midst of a crisis (in medias res)
  • Proceeds to the resolution with little background information, character development, or descriptive detail
early ballads often included
Early Ballads often included:
  • Tragic love
  • Domestic conflicts
  • Wars
  • Shipwrecks
  • Sensational crimes
  • Exploits of outlaws

Just like today with tabloid headlines and soap operas, certain forms of popular entertainment tended toward the sensational.

Plot Examples:

  • Three dead sons visit mother for dinner
  • A maiden is headed for the gallows, and her family refuses to help
later ballads often included
Later ballads often included:
  • Historical events
  • Romantic heroes
      • These ballads were written toward end of the Middle Ages when English was accepted as a language of literary merit.


  • Four lines per stanza
  • Second and fourth lines rhyme and are often shorter than the first and third lines (ABCB rhyme scheme)


  • Stock descriptive phrases
      • A word or phrase habitually used by a group of people: a cliché
      • Example: blood-red wine
      • One less thing for the singer to remember
  • Refrain in each stanza (repetition)
      • Contributed to the song’s rhythm and reinforced its theme
      • Provided the singer with time to think of the next verse
  • Incremental repetition
      • A line or stanza is repeated, but with an addition that advances the story


  • Treats a highly dramatic situation in the simplest language
  • Uses a considerable amount of dialogue (sometimes local dialect)
  • Because ballads were well-known, the folk balladeer could often skip parts, which allowed him to develop parts that interested him. This accounts for the gaps in plots – “leaping and lingering”


  • Ballads deal with:
      • Strong elemental passions of humanity
      • Powerfully depicted love
      • Hatred, faith, revenge, fear, courage, loyalty
    • Many involve the supernatural and end tragically
biography later years
Biography: Later Years
  • Left Harper and Row publishing in favor of smaller independent black publishers
  • Resistance to poems
  • Wrote about influential black leaders
  • 2 autobiographical collections
  • Poetry consultant to Library of Congress
  • Pulitzer Prize
  • Known as a bridge from traditional to militant poets
  • Died in 2000, age 83

MrAfrica. Gwendolyn Brooks. n.d.Afropoets. 2007. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.

more quotes about brooks
More Quotes about Brooks
  • Brooks “never feared or shirked what she fervently believed was her responsibility; that sense of responsibility shaped her very aesthetic.”
  • Brooks’s poetry is inextricably grounded in the mid-twentieth-century social and political transformation of the United States and in art’s potential to engage with the complexity and variety of experience in African American life.
  • Jackson Williams, Kenny. Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.
  • Catherine, Halley. "Gwendolyn Brooks." Poetry foundation. Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.
  • Ud Din, Kamal. Mother Utters: Struggle and Subversion in the Works of Gwendolyn Brooks. Indiana:
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2008. Web. 27 Feb. 2012
  • Crowther, Linnea. Gwendolyn Brooks. n.d. Legacy. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2012
  • MrAfrica. Gwendolyn Brooks. n.d.Afropoets. 2007. Web. 26 Feb. 2012.