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A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Copyright Date: 1990
Edition: 1
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
    Book Description:

    This is the first full-scale biography of Gwendolyn Brooks, one of America's major poets. George E. Kent, a longtime friend and literary associate of the poet in Chicago, was given exclusive access to Brooks' early notebooks, which she kept from the age of seven. Kent also interviewed Brooks, her mother, and other family members in Chicago and elsewhere. He scoured records and correspondence with her publishers, editors, and agent. He participated in the poet's literary enterprises and in her wide circle of literary and family friends. The study reveals intimate acquaintance with the Harlem Renaissance, with the Chicago literary scene and its leading figures from the thirties on, with historical developments in black culture and consciousness, and with the significant figures and activities that impressed the poet's life and art. It places Brooks' work in the context of the civil rights movement, the black arts movement, and black nationalism. Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950 for Annie Allen and is today widely recognized as one of the nation's leading poets, yet her work has received less than its due from mainstream critics. Kent's authoritative book has been one step in correcting that neglect.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4873-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    D. H. MELHEM

    George Kent completed his biography of Gwendolyn Brooks only a short time before his death in 1982. As professor of English at the University of Chicago for the last thirteen years of his life, Kent came to know Chicago’s Black literary world intimately. He first met Brooks at the celebration honoring her the Affro-Arts Theatre in Chicago on December 20, 1969. Having admired her poetry for years, he introduced himself to Brooks and asked permission to write her life story. She agreed immediately. Thus began an association that was to last until Kent’s death.

    Kent was born in 1920 in...

  4. 1 Beginnings
    (pp. 1-34)

    Keziah Brooks first encountered her daughter Gwendolyn’s talent when she found her scribbling two-line verses at the age of seven. The verses filled a page and surprised Keziah by their clarity and originality. Legend has it that Keziah stated, “You are going to be the lady Paul Laurence Dunbar.”¹ Within two years Gwendolyn was writing surprisingly good four-line verses. Sensing her poetic talent, the family gave her the time she needed to perfect her work. Gwendolyn later declared that she believed in the certainty with which her mother spoke, and never stopped writing. She received inspira-tion also from her father,...

  5. 2 Into the Morrow
    (pp. 35-44)

    A two-year program at a college goes rapidly, and later it blurs more easily than the all-encompassingenvironment of a four-year struggle to learn. Especially in her first year at Wilson Junior College, Gwendolyn made new friends. Over the whole period, names and faces were more distinct entities for her than before, among both close friends and those who might be called acquaintances. The old friends who now surrounded her included Lula Battle, Lucille Harris, Lavinia Olive Brascher, Myrtle Wilson, Kenyon Reid, and Theries Lindsay. Despite her habitual reticence, she had a deep feeling for people. She observed closely, wondered about...

  6. 3 Struggles, Triumphs
    (pp. 45-75)

    On Sunday, September 17, 1939, two years after they had met at the YMCA on Forty-Sixth and South Park, Gwendolyn Brooks and Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr., were married in a simple 4 P.M. ceremony attended by relatives and old friends. The service proceeded smoothly, with the Reverend T.C. Lightfoot leading the ritual and Gwendolyn standing in a $7 red velvet dress, flanked by Henry in his new suit. When the minister asked, “Who giveth this man and woman in marriage?” there was a brief silence, although David Brooks was completely attentive. Keziah stepped forward and said, quietly but distinctly, “I...

  7. 4 Bright Waters
    (pp. 76-102)

    During 1949 and 1950 Gwendolyn was most aware of the brightness of the challenging waters into which she was now moving. She was embarking upon several extraordinary adventures. Her adventure with the white liberal critical consensus would continue its present course for seventeen years and become the most extraordinary one experienced by a black American poet, with its mixture of brightness and ambiguity. Her adventure with life would continue to involve her in a struggle for basic survival, despite the achievement of a level of fame that usually opened up a fairly broad range of resources for earning money. It...

  8. 5 A Complicated Universe
    (pp. 103-116)

    Early in 1951, Gwendolyn experienced a personal triumph in her second pregnancy and was temporarily disengaged from the making of books, though she was fulfilling briefer writing assignments and reading poetry with Peter Viereck and others. In February, she managed a trip to New York to assist in the National Book Award selection. She stayed at a dismal hotel but enjoyed dinner with her editor, Elizabeth Lawrence. Elizabeth found Gwendolyn in wonderful spirits and looking fit, convinced that she was pregnant. On her return to Chicago, her condition was “certified, confirmed, entered.” She experienced a little discomfort now and then...

  9. 6 Reachings
    (pp. 117-152)

    The decade of the 1950s was a good time, but a different movement of the life cycle seemed to impend. On October 10, 1953, Henry Jr.’s thirteenth birthday, Gwendolyn and the family moved into their new house on South Evans. She would think of their having moved in on a wing (tattered) and a prayer. Nevertheless, she had achieved the move with a husband and two children—a baby girl and a somewhat turbulent teenage boy who would begin to disturb her world in a new way as he discovered the larger world from his private adolescent point of view....

  10. 7 Foreshadowings
    (pp. 153-180)

    Despite the variety in Gwendolyn’s experiences, there were, surprisingly, no indications in the early 1960s that her life would be fundamentally altered in the coming decade as her racial consciousness achieved a different focus and she broke with the white liberal critical consensus that had guided most of her career. The break would seem so dramatic that she would give it dimensions similar to the Apostle Paul’s sudden conversion on the road to Damascus. It would produce basic changes in her personality, her art, her financial situation, and her relations with others. Not unrelated to these developments would be a...

  11. 8 Changes
    (pp. 181-202)

    During the 1960s the “Negro Civil Rights Revolution” interacted painfully with a stubborn and unyielding racism that seemed to require blacks to develop resources from within if they were to stand upon the earth as men and women. This interaction wrought far, reaching psychic changes in most American blacks—Gwendolyn and other artists, of course, included. One “moderate” black stated that the radical black movement of the 1960s did more to create wholeness within blacks than all efforts made during the preceding sixty years, although she herselffelt that her life was so fundamen, tally intertwined with those of whites that...

  12. 9 Recognized in Her Country
    (pp. 203-230)

    Gwendolyn brought back to Chicago the excitement aroused in her by the Fisk University Writers’ Conference. Nora found her mother a bundle of energy, walking “three feet in the air” and looking for ways to express her new consciousness. She found such an opportunity among the accumulated mail awaiting her on her return, a telegram from the producer, singer Oscar Brown, Jr., which invited her to a preview of his latest work, “Opportunity Please Knock,” a show created from the talents of the Blackstone Rangers street gang. What Brown had done with the youths, who were usually considered problems, seemed...

  13. 10 Brave New World
    (pp. 231-258)

    Gwendolyn continued to look for ways in which she could express her commitment to ideology, and to develop a financial base. She remained enthusiastic about her autobiography and the money it would probably make, although Genevieve Young, her editor at Harper & Row, cautioned that “the world of art and the world of commerce seldom converge. All we have ever been able to do is to publish the best book the author is capable of writing in the best way we know how, and I promise we will do the best with yours.”¹ The poet was obviously hoping for income...

  14. Afterword.
    (pp. 259-264)
    D. H. MELHEM

    George Kent’s biography of Gwendolyn Brooks ends in 1978 with the death of Keziah Brooks and a remembered image ofher, singing. The poignancy of the image emphasizes Kent’s appreciation that the familial context, with which his study begins, is a continuity. Brooks’s “duty-loving” mother, who had so faithfully served her daughter’s talent, persisted in expressing her own aspirations until the end of her life.

    Keziah Brooks died on March 14, 1978, after a long illness through which her daughter had nursed her. The poet’s career and its social context would become her path ofadjustment to deep griefand awareness of lose...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 265-272)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 273-274)
  17. Index
    (pp. 275-287)