Gwendolyn Brooks at 100

It was especially gratifying to think about the poems and life of Gwendolyn Brooks while attending Quraysh Ali Lansana's presentation at the Art Institute of Chicago's Rubloff Auditorium. The presentation was part of a centennial effort to remember and celebrate the memory of the celebrated activist, mother, feminist, and literary icon for her part in influencing the racial, cultural, and political landscape of the United States in the 20th century. The five Pulitzer Prize-winning African Americans for poetry were present as honorary visitors as well. They were Gregory Pardlo, Yusuf Komunyakaa, Tracy K. Smith, Rita Dover, and Natasha Trethewey. To kick-start the commemoration, Lansana had the attendees chant Brook’s short poem titled We Real Cool before letting the guests recite their own verses and pay tribute to their late poetic predecessor.

Lansana proceeded to show the audience a video commentary on the life and works of the late Gwendolyn Brooks. The reviews were done by individuals who had the honor of knowing Brooks on a personal level and who have studied her works. In the video, Lansana reflects on Brook’s birth, family background, and motivation for poetry. His reflections convey the image of a poet whose upbringing instilled a strong foundation of morality that later characterized the principled Gwendolyn Brooks. The video also features Yusef Komunyakaa describing the late poet as a charismatic individual whose character and ability to relate to people drew them to her.

Lansana also discussed Brook’s poem titled The Mother which addresses the nature of abortions. The persona in the poem ponders about the abortions she has had and the possibilities that would have been had she not aborted. She contemplates the controversy of abortion, wondering whether it is possible to kill what had not been alive. Overall, Lansana’s presentation provided nourishing insight into one of America’s most successful poets, a poet whom I – before the event – had limited appreciation.

Works Cited


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