June 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Gwendolyn Brooks

Born on this day in 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, Gwendolyn Brooks grew up to become a famous writer and poet. She became Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress, and she won a Pulitzer Prize—the first African-American to do so.

Brooks began writing poetry at age 7 and was already a published poet at age 13 (in a children's magazine). By age 16, Brooks had published 75 poems!

Brooks sometimes used traditional poetry styles such as sonnets and ballads, and other times she used blues rhythms and free verse. What set even her traditional poetry apart from others' was her settings and characters, largely inner-city and poor.

In addition to her published poetry and her many honors, Brooks taught creative writing at many different colleges and universities, and she was invited by President John F. Kennedy to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival.

Enjoy Gwendolyn Brooks's Words!

  • Here are a few quotes:
"Goodness begins simply with the fact of life itself."

“Art hurts. Art urges voyages - and it is easier to stay at home.”

“Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.”
  • Here is her first published poem:
by Gwendolyn Brooks (age 13)
When the sun sinks behind the mountains,
And the sky is besprinkled with color,
And the neighboring brook is peacefully still,

With a gentle, silent ripple now and then;

When flowers send forth sweet odors,

And the grass is uncommonly green,

When the air is tranquilly sweet,

And children flock to their mothers' side[s],

Then worry flees and comfort presides
For all know it welcoming evening.
  • Here is Brooks reading one of her most famous poems, “We Real Cool.”
  • Read Bronzeville Boys and Girls, a book of poems about a community of kids that Brooks dedicated to her own children.
A Fancy Poetry Word

One reason that Gwendolyn Brooks's poem “We Real Cool” is so famous is that she uses enjambment.

This means that she breaks up her lines of poetry in unusual places, instead of at the end of a phrase or sentence, or at the end of a thought.

Enjambment is used in poetry to create interest and to prevent “deadening” of the ear. According to a poetry website, if all the lines of a poem are about the same length, readers might stop paying as close attention to the rhythm and also to the meaning of the poem.

Actually, although "We Real Cool" features enjambment, most of the lines are pretty much the same length. Still, the unique line breaks, after the word we, keep us interested and wondering what's coming all thr
ough the short poem:


We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.
Older students might like to further analyze the poem and its use of enjambment, perhaps using this lesson plan.

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