By WENDELL HUTSON
A three-day event that kicked off on Thursday, April 6, at the DuSable Museum of African American History will celebrate the life and legacy of the late poet and Hyde Park resident Gwendolyn Brooks.
“Centennial Brooks” is a free event that runs from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, April 7, and from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
Attendees will be able to participate in panel discussions about Brooks and the importance of arts with writers, friends, former Brooks colleagues, and her daughter Nora Brooks Blakely, 65, who read numerous poems by her mom at Thursday’s opening.
“I have so many memories of my mom it’s hard to pinpoint the fondest one,” Blakely told the Hyde Park Herald. “She told so many wonderful stories that it’s hard to have a favorite one.”
One of the poems Blakely read was “We Real Cool,” which is about a group of youth hanging out after school. The poem starts off saying, “We real cool. We left school. We lurk late. We strike straight. We sing sin. We thin gin. We jazz June. We die soon.”
Brooks moved to Hyde Park in the 1990s where she remained until she succumbed to cancer in 2000, according to Blakely.
“Before she moved to Hyde Park she lived at 7428 S. Evans in the Park Manor neighborhood [on the South Side] and now that house is a Chicago landmark,” Blakely said. “My mom was committed to literature and she used it to tell her stories.”
About 200 people attended Thursday’s opening and were treated to a series of Brooks poems read not only by Blakely but also by poet friends Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti and Angela Jackson.
Mimi Washington, 62, lives in Gary, Ind. and attended Thursday’s event because Brooks was her favorite writer.
“I probably read every thing she ever wrote from poems to magazine articles to books,” Washington said. “I loved the way she gave details in her writings and her choice of words when describing life situations. When Gwendolyn Brooks died America lost a great writer and educator. It’s good to see her life being recognized and her work still being honored as it should.”
After Brooks married in 1938 she had two children, Henry Blakely Jr. and Nora. Shortly after that in 1945 she penned her first book of poetry, “A Street in Bronzeville.”
After starting a family Brooks’ career accelerated and led to great success. Among her achievements were winning a 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; she became the Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968; σηε ωασ inducted in 1988 into the National Women’s Hall of Fame; a 1989 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts; and in 1989, she was awarded the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Society of America.
Brooks initially attended Hyde Park High School but later transferred to Wendell Phillips High School in Bronzeville, only to transfer again to Englewood High School where she graduated. After high school she attended the former Wilson Junior College in 1936. Prior to her death Brooks taught literature at Chicago State University, and in 2001 Chicago Public Schools renamed South Side Prep, which is in the Roseland neighborhood, to Gwendolyn Brooks Prep.