Gwendolyn Brooks – Pulitzer Prize Winner

Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American person to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature. She wrote many poems about being black during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Her poems were so vivid. She would write about struggling black people both men and women in a way that would capture the reader. It was in college that I learned of Gwendolyn Brooks and her brilliance when I read “The Mother”.

Her first poetry anthology, “A Street in Bronzeville”, gained the attention of literary experts in 1945. She was praised for both her poetic skill and her powerful descriptions about the black experience during the time. The Bronzeville poems were her first published collection. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. She was the first black to do so. But, it didn’t stop there because she also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Awesome right?

One of my favorite poems by Ms. Brooks is “The Mother”. I read this in college and cried. This poem is so gut wrenching that I knew at that moment that I wanted to write. To put on paper all the emotions and observations of the world I live in. Gwendolyn Brooks, like Maya Angelou, helped give me my voice and for that I am thankful.

The Mother – by Gwendolyn Brooks

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

 

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

 

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.
gwendolyn-brooks

The Defining Moment

Today I was saddened to hear the news of Maya Angelou’s untimely death.  She was an incredible poet, author and entertainer.  She was simply a strong woman.  A strong black woman. She helped me love and appreciate the curves in my hips when I read “Phenomenal Woman”. She helped me see that the pain that I held when I couldn’t forgive folks kept me caged like a bird and she taught me that the best revenge is simply to rise and be heard.  To stand up and show the world that they aren’t hurting me.  To move past the pain.

She told me in her poem that haters will hate, but still I rise.  She taught me to not let them see me being down trodden.  Rise.  She taught me that just because I’m a woman and poor doesn’t mean that I can’t reinvent myself.  She did and accomplished so many things in her life that it is a shame that some will never know how deep her footprints in the sand of life really are. Incredible. Talented.  Phenomenal. Strong.  Able.  Those are just some of the words that I would use to describe her.

The poem “Still I Rise” was the defining moment in my life that I truly learned to love and appreciate the blackness of my skin.  I learned to appreciate and love being a woman and I learned to move past the injustices that were done to me.  You see it wasn’t Amiri Baraka with his words of rage that had me raising my fist in solidarity of my people, but it was in the love of the words that spoke to someone who got up and got over the heartaches of this world. 

There are very few people that have influenced my life in such a profound way that I have not personally met.  Few people that have helped lay the foundation and appreciation for my racial pride.  She was one of the reasons that I became an English major.  Her writing inspired and awakened me in the rooms of my college dorm and in the classroom where I found my literary voice. A voice each day that I’m learning to use.  

So, for folks who don’t know this poem, “Still I Rise”, I’ve shared it below.

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my livin’ room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meetings of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise