The Harlem Renaissance and the
Mythologies of Black Women
When Gwendolyn Brooks published her first collection of poetry A Street in Bronzeville ( 1945) with Harper and Brothers, she already enjoyed a substantial reputation in the literary circles of Chicago. Nearly a decade earlier, her mother Keziah Brooks, had arranged meetings between her daughter and James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, two of the most distinguished Black writers of America's Harlem Renaissance. Determined to mold Gwendolyn into a lady Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mrs. Brooks proffered poems for the famous writers to read. While Johnson's advice to the young poet was abrupt, eventually he exerted an incisive influence on her later work. In a letter and a marginal note included on the returned poems, addressed to her on 30 August 1937, Johnson praised Brook's obvious talent and pointed her in the direction of Modernist poetry:
My dear Miss Brooks: I have read the poems you sent me last. Of them I especially liked Reunion and Myself. Reunion is very good, and Myself is good. You should, by all means, continue you[r] study and work. I shall always be glad to give you any assistance that I can. Sincerely yours. James Weldon Johnson.
Dear Miss Brooks—You have an unquestionable talent and