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Distinguished Poet Gwendolyn Brooks to Read at Smith

Distinguished poet Gwendolyn Brooks will read from her work at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4, in Wright Hall Auditorium. Sponsored by the Poetry Center at Smith College, this event is free and open to the public.

Brooks has been a leading force in American letters for decades. Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917, she was the first black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize (1950 for "Annie Allen"). She is author of more than 20 books of poetry and recipient of more than 75 honorary degrees and many honors, including a National Medal of the Arts, the Frost Medal and the Shelley Memorial Award.

Brooks served as consultant-in-poetry to the Library of Congress (the position now called "poet laureate"), and in 1969 succeeded Carl Sandburg as poet laureate of Illinois, a post she holds to this day. She serves as writer-in-residence at Chicago State University, where the Gwendolyn Brooks Distinguished Chair in Black Culture and Literature has been named in her honor, and still lives near where she grew up-the South Side of Chicago, setting for much of her poetry.

Brooks' work has broad literary and cultural roots and social implications--from her first book of poems, "A Street in Bronzeville" (1945), which makes rich use of ballad, sonnet, blues, and syncopation--to her most recent, the 1992 volume "Children Coming Home," about elementary school children coming home from school ('not always to cocoa and cookies'). Her most famous poem, the eight-liner "We Real Cool," has introduced many young students to contemporary poetry.

We Real Cool
The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die Soon.

In 1999 Brooks was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cook County Juvenile Court for her advocacy of children's rights and contributions to education. That year also marked the 30th anniversary of the Young Poet Laureate Awards, an annual event honoring some 30 young poets throughout Illinois, which she founded and wholly supports.

Last November, Brooks was awarded the Academy of American Poets' Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement. In her citation, Chancellor Adrienne Rich wrote: "Brooks's poetry plumbs our national psyche[and] holds up a mirror to the American experience entire, its dreams, self-delusions and nightmares. Her voice is inimitable."

Granddaughter of a runaway slave, Gwendolyn Brooks is a national treasure, who followed her own advice to "conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind." At 83, she remains an artist fully engaged in life as well as art and an inspiration to a generation of young writers.

Brooks' reading will be followed by bookselling and signing. School groups interested in reserving blocks of seating, are encouraged to contact Cindy Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen Doré Watson, director, at (413)585-3368.

September 14, 2000


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