HENRY TAYLOR


Gwendolyn Brooks:
An Essential Sanity

Gwendolyn Brooks's emergence as an important poet has been less schematic, but not less impressive, than commentary upon it has suggested. It is difficult to isolate the poems themselves from the variety of reactions to them; these have been governed as much by prevailing or individual attitudes toward issues of race, class, and gender, as by serious attempts at dispassionate examination and evaluation. Furthermore, Brooks's activities in behalf of younger writers have demonstrated her generosity and largeness of spirit, and wide recognition of these qualities has led some critics away from the controlled but genuine anger in many of the poems. Brooks has contributed to this process; in interviews, and in her autobiographical Report from Part One ( 1972), she speaks engagingly and with apparent authority about her own work, and many of her judgments have become part of the majority view of her career. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to consider whether there might be more unity in the body of her work than conventional divisions of her career suggest.

Brooks herself, as William H. Hansell has noted, indicated the divisions when, "in a 1976 interview at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, [she] said that her work falls into three periods that correspond to 'changes' in her perspective." Hansell's note: "Works of the first period are A Street in Bronzeville ( 1945), Annie Allen ( 1949) and The Bean Eaters ( 1960). The

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From Compulsory Figures: Essays on Recent American Poets by Henry Taylor. © 1992 Louisiana State University Press.

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