Our Literary Mecca: A Tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks

By Muse, Daphne | Black Masks, March 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Our Literary Mecca: A Tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks


Muse, Daphne, Black Masks


Our Literary Mecca: A Tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks

Daphne Muse is a writer who lives in Oakland, California.

Just in case no one has done so before, I want to remind the world that long before Chicago had Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan, there was Gwendolyn Brooks! Many of us recall how her work put us In The Mecca as we traveled A Street in Bronzeville in search of Maude Martha, gathering with The Bean Eaters, who in their lifetime would come to celebrate Winnie.

As a beneficiary of a more than thirty-year friendship with Gwendolyn Brooks, my bank of memories and personal archives are filled with volumes of her poetry, correspondence and counless pieces of ephemera. While my heart hangs heavily over her loss, my spirit dances divinely for one of America's finest poets. With pen in hand and verse in her heart, she died Sunday, December 3rd, 2000 in her South-side Chicago home, one week after being diagnosed with cancer. She was surrounded by her daughter Nora, poet Haki Madhubuti and other people she loved.

As she transitions back to spirit, I know she is writing to express her own indignation poetically demanding an investigation into the ongoing brutal disenfranchisement of ordinary Black American citizens, about whom she wrote so eloquently. Her work spanned five decades and is certain to be held in perpetuity in our hearts and minds, as well as through the works of the multiple generations of poets she mentored. In Spring 2001, her voice will rise again and span the new century through the publication of her last book, In Montgomery: New and Other Poems. Continuing her commitment to place her work with independent Black publishers since the 1969 publication of Riot, her last book will be published by Third World Press.

Brooks wore her 1950 Pulitzer Prize, the 1994 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lectureship (the highest humanities award given by the federal government) and her hundreds of other outstanding accolades, as she did her clothes--simply. Through her poetry, presence and uncomplicated demeanor, she firmly admonished Black people not to be clubbed into submission, and to stand tall in their power, and honor their truth.

Across from my writing desk hangs a wonderful photograph reminding me how powerfully her mentoring reach extended. In the photo, a lovely and youthful Brooks is surrounded by the "Jump Badders"--Carolyn Rodgers, Sharon Scott, Johari Amini, Mike Cook, Walter Bradford and Haki Madhubuti (Don Lee)--young Chicago poets she mentored starting in the mid-60s. …

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