V-Books-Angela-Jackson-Remembers-Poet-Gwendolyn-Brooks-In-New-Book-A-Surprised-Queenhood--1496426108 V-Books-Angela-Jackson-Remembers-Poet-Gwendolyn-Brooks-In-New-Book-A-Surprised-Queenhood--1496426108
Beacon Press

V Books: Angela Jackson Remembers Poet Gwendolyn Brooks In New Book, 'A Surprised Queenhood'

Black poets society.

Writers who possess god-like qualities with their pens enable readers to make better sense of the world. One of the world’s most celebrated and effective wordsmiths, Gwendolyn Brooks, has done just that with poetry by shedding light on the black experience for most of the 20th century. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, her family moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration when she was only six weeks old. Imaginative and curious, Brooks began penning scribes as an innocent seven-year-old. From that day forward, the late Brooks wrote a poem every day for the rest of her life, which unfortunately ended on Dec. 3, 2000, as result of cancer.

READ:: The Love Between Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks

It was in the bustling Bronzeville, a.k.a. the Black Metropolis section of Southside Chicago that created an energy of inspiration for Brooks’ poetry. In fact, her first anthology of poems, fittingly titled A Street in Bronzeville, gave rise to her status as a who's who among fellow literary giants like Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. After garnering several publications and winning writing fellowships, Brooks became the first African-American to win the desirous Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her sophomore book, Annie Allen, in 1950.

Award-winning poet and Chicago resident, Angela Jackson, decided to pay homage to Brooks' bold genius with a brilliant biography of the late writer’s life titled, A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks (Beacon Press). Jackson, who holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, has won a handful of awards for her work, including the TriQuarterly’s Daniel Curley Award and Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award, among others. Her publications include Voo Doo/Love Magic, Dark Legs and Silk Kisses: The Beatitudes of the Spinners, Shango Diaspora: An African-American Myth of Womanhood and Love, and several others.

VIBE spoke with Jackson about her new book, Brooks' childhood as well as her writing habits, and much more.

VIBE: Why tell Gwendolyn Brooks’ story?
Angela Jackson: An editor at Beacon Press, Rakia Clark, called me and asked me to write the story of Gwendolyn Brooks for the 100th anniversary of her birth, June 7, 2017. Rakia Clark got my name from Dr. Jacqueline Goldsby. I emailed Nora Brooks Blakely, Ms. Brooks’ daughter who is also a friend of mine, and asked her if it would be okay if I attempted to tell her mother’s story. I had just lost my own mother and welcomed the loving and intense task. Nora said yes.

Can you discuss some of the extraordinary habits that Brooks developed as a writer during her childhood?
Gwendolyn Brooks wrote every day from around the age of seven. She read all the time when she wasn’t writing or playing with her paper dolls or studying the sky from the back steps. When she was young, her mother relieved her of chores so she could practice her craft. Her mother and father believed in her talent and helped her to nurture it. Her father bought her a second–hand desk. Gwendolyn made her room her literary headquarters, sending out her work, being rejected, then sending out more. She never gave up. She published her first poems in a neighborhood paper. Then she published her first poem in a national magazine when she was thirteen. She published regularly in the Chicago Defender, the famed black newspaper.

Is Brooks responsible for birthing the Chicago Black Renaissance? This generation—myself included—does not know much about the Chicago Black Renaissance.
The Chicago Black Renaissance took place from the 1930s ‘til the 1960s, and Gwendolyn Brooks as she matured in the late 1930s, was very much a part of it. She by no means started it. It was a product of the Great Migration, making Chicago an epicenter of cultural activity. One of the factors that caused the Chicago Black Renaissance was the WPA and its employment of black and other writers to collect stories of the people. At that time, there were writers’ groups that came into being. One group was led by Richard Wright and included Gwendolyn’s age-mate poet and novelist, Margaret Walker. Gwendolyn, her future husband Henry Blakely Jr., Margaret Danner, and Margaret Burroughs were all a part of the YWCA Youth Council. They were recruited by a white socialite-poetry teacher to join in a workshop at the South Side Community Art Center. Gwendolyn was a devoted member of the group sometimes called The Visionaries. The Chicago Black Renaissance was a phenomenon of not just literature but visual arts and theater as well. Langston Hughes worked in theater in Chicago for a time. From 1941-1949, Brooks said that she and her husband attended and gave parties for this vibrant art community. They talked ideas and how to help their people achieve equality, justice, and better lives. They ate and listened to blues and jazz. Cultural critics are just starting to look at the Chicago Black Renaissance. They were fascinated with the Harlem Renaissance. Soon they will explore the Chicago Black Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. It’s begun.

Richard Wright and James Baldwin were instrumental to Brooks’ career. What was it about her or her writing that Wright and Baldwin liked so much?
Richard Wright was asked to serve as a reader of Gwendolyn Brooks’ first book "A Street in Bronzevile" by Harper and Brothers. Harper and Brothers was also his publisher. Wright was highly enthusiastic about Ms. Brooks’ work. He found it raw and “real.” He didn’t think the work was false in any way or appealed to a white audience with stereotypes of black people. He believed she genuinely captured black life. I am not sure what Baldwin said about Miss Brooks’ work. I know he approved of her enough to attend a party at the Blakely home. Young Nora was a witness.

She wrote about abortion? How was that perceived during those days?
When Richard Wright read her first book for Harper and Brothers, he supported all but one poem. That poem was “the mother.” He did not think that abortion was a fit topic for poetry. Wright urged that the poem be taken out of the volume. Ms. Brooks insisted that “the mother” be included. She was adamant. “The mother” is a powerful poem that does not speak for or against abortions. It eloquently captures the emotions of a woman—regret, sorrow, loss, guilt. It is unforgettable. It speaks hauntingly to women even now. It was revolutionary in 1945. At that time abortions were illegal and only whispered about. They were often done under unsanitary conditions. Ms. Brooks shed light on the subject. She was courageous.

Can you share with us one, or two intriguing sonnets from Brooks, and explain their meaning?
Just about all of Gwendolyn Brooks’ sonnets are intriguing. She was and is a master of the form. Her sonnets are some of the world’s greatest.

First fight. Then fiddle.

Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late

Wherein to play your violin with grace.

I read this as a poem about the effort we as black folk must make to achieve justice. After justice, then peace.

Did she recognize the moment[s] when she knew that she grew as a writer?
Gwendolyn Brooks grew as a poet when she attended the Visionaries Workshop and deepened her thinking and technique. With each volume, she grew. From A Street in Bronzeville’s blues and jazz rhythms to the elevated diction of Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Allen to the ascending social consciousness of The Bean Eaters to the tour de force, and black addressed, In the Mecca, she grew. In the Mecca followed her most transforming growth from Negro to Black. This change happened after she attended the Fisk Writers Conference in 1967. After that, she became friends with revolutionary-minded black poets like Don L. Lee (now Haki Madhubuti), Carolyn Rodgers, Walter Bradford, Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez. She began to develop a lean, stripped poetry to speak to a wider black audience. She switched to black publishers— Broadside and Third World Press. Let’s not forget that she had written one excellent novel, "Maud Martha." She wrote two autobiographies: "Report from Part One" and ["Report from Part] Two."

Would you describe Brooks as a civil rights activist?
Gwendolyn Brooks was a serious poet and writer whose work was always on the frontlines of black activist thought. She was an activist. When lynching was the question, she wrote “The Ballad of Pearl May Lee.” When black housing and white riots were the question, she wrote “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed.” She wrote about Emmett Till, Little Rock, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Harold Washington, Winnie and Nelson Mandela, the near Johannesburg boy, and the boy who died in her alley, killed by another.

How does her story and imagination connect with today’s generation?
Like today’s young rappers and poets, Ms. Brooks early on kept notebooks of her rhymes. She practiced her craft every day and she wrote about what she saw around her and she wrote about her feelings. She was in tune with her time like rappers today. She always envisioned herself as a poet, just as young poets and rappers do now. They see themselves working in words. They see the limitless potential of working in words. She was devoted to black people and all of humanity and I believe the best of today’s generation are as well.

What’s your favorite poem by Brooks and why?
My favorite poem by Ms. Brooks changes with my mood. Right now, “The Sermon on the Warpland” is a subtle, magnificent sermon to black people on how we must be steadfast, ethical, united and empathetic in our liberation movement as a community. I also love “Truth” and “To Be in Love.”

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned from Brooks?
As a poet, I learned from Gwendolyn Brooks that I am a student before each poem. She never considered herself a master. She was humble. In a certain sense, we are all students of this great black woman poet-activist.

A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks is available for purchase here.

 

From the Web

More on Vibe

A general view of the video screens before the 69th NBA All-Star Game at the United Center on February 16, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Posterized Celebrates Chicago’s All-Time Starting Five For NBA All-Star Weekend

Chicago has not experienced the excitement of NBA All-Star weekend since Michael Jordan dominated the weekend in 1988 by winning the dunk contest and taking home the MVP trophy. The hardworking, blue-collar city has produced some of the greatest basketball players over the years. To celebrate those players, fans were invited to vote on their All-Time Starting Five through the Posterized Experience app leading up to All-Star weekend.

Verizon Wireless funded the mobile event app with content support from Project SYNCERE students, a Chicago-based non-profit that aids in preparing underrepresented and disadvantaged students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The pool of 55 nominees was stacked with amazing talent and included men and women who attended high school in the Chicagoland area for four years and dominated on the court, including the late Ben “Benji” Wilson, Isiah Thomas, Candace Parker, Tim Hardaway, Quentin Richardson, and many more.

On Friday (Feb. 14), the top 5 were revealed during "Posterized: The Chicago Experience" powered by Jim Beam. Derrick Rose, the NBA’s youngest MVP to date, racked up the most votes, and joining him on the list were Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, 3-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade, and Antoine Walker.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

SPECIAL GROUP ......

A post shared by Antoine Walker (@toinewalker8) on Jan 31, 2020 at 10:06am PST

Walker, an NBA champion and 3-time All-Star when he played for the Boston Celtics, joined NBC Sports Chicago analyst Jason Goff in announcing the most voted players during the invitation-only event overlooking the picturesque city at the Chicago Sports Museum & Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant.

In addition to Walker being on hand, several other retired NBA players stopped by to enjoy the afternoon soiree, including Kenyon Martin and Chicagoland natives Tim Hardaway, Shawn Marion, and Mark Aguirre. Former NFL player and Illinois Senate representative Napoleon Harris, 1985 Chicago Bears champion Otis Wilson, rapper Jadakiss, iconic radio personality Ed Lover, God Shammgod and more joined in the festivities as well.

Throughout the afternoon, guests were treated to all things Chicago including fun stepping dance lessons, the famous Garrett’s Popcorn, and a special “312” screening lounge featuring movies and television shows set in the city. When asked what it meant to be voted a part of the All-Time Starting Five by fans via the Posterized Experience app, Walker answered, “It is an honor to represent my hometown…Chicago and be recognized as a Top 5 player by the fans. Chicago is a town built on hard work. Many basketball stars are born here, and legends are made. I’m glad that I am a product of this amazing city.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

It’s a wrap folks! Thank you Chicagoland for selecting your #AllTimeStartingFive and major thanks to @recothegreat for capturing the perfect portrait of the #Top5! @antdavis23, @drose, @dwyanewade, @isiahthomas and @toinewalker8 is a tough 🏀 squad to beat! #Posterized #PosterizedExperience #AnthonyDavis #DerrickRose #DwyaneWade #IsiahThomas #AntoineWalker

A post shared by Posterized: Chicago Experience (@posterizedexperience) on Feb 15, 2020 at 7:13am PST

Continue Reading
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant reacts during the Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals in Boston, Massachusetts, June 17, 2008.
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP

Kobe Bryant Went From Peerless To Peer, And That's Why It Hurts To Lose Him

If you were to list the major events of Kobe Bryant’s life, it would read like one of those cheesy, unbelievable movies on Netflix that you scroll right past every night. Born to an NBA player, grew up in Italy, made it to the NBA at 17 years old, won five championships, won an Oscar, won an Emmy, died in a helicopter crash.

The abruptness of the ending of the list is matched only by the totality of the list itself. As fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant put it, “You’ve seen Kobe in every situation… he lived life to the fullest.”

Ultimately it was that all-encompassing nature of Kobe Bryant’s life that made his death so tragic and so painful. Kobe was the rare entity that made the entire world feel something about him. Whether it was love, hate, admiration, fear, respect or whatever other emotion he could elicit out of you as a spectator, you felt it. As such, everybody felt something when the news broke that he’d perished in a helicopter crash, even his most feverish haters.

Perhaps you were attached to Kobe the basketball deity, with his insatiable competitiveness that became its own mantra for life: Mamba Mentality. Or maybe you loved Kobe the artist and storyteller, who found new ways to express himself and succeed after leaving the sport most thought he would be miserable without. But the most wide-ranging side of Kobe is surely the father and the family man. That was the most “normal” of his superpowers.

There was a side of Kobe for everybody, and as such he may have lived as the most revered and celebrated athlete in the world. There are others more popular by standard metrics, but the adulation Kobe received in every pocket of the world is the type of devotion that only existed in eras past, before the internet opened up niches for every single interest and gave platforms for every single counterargument.

In the sports world, Kobe may be Patient 0 for that sort of internet native life, as we’ve been privy to almost his entire life since the moment he arrived, arm and arm with Brandy at his high school prom. His entire career exists on camera somewhere, and most of his adult life is Google-able and available at the click of a button, in HD.

As such, we get the feeling we know Kobe, a sentiment that became amplified when he allowed us to get even closer to him with the intimacy of his social media profiles. His random thoughts were strewn across his Twitter account. His adorable family life is plastered on both his and his wife’s Instagram accounts. Plus, there were documentaries, stories, books, Oscar-winning shorts and every other sort of content for all the rest of his life and the arbitrary contemplations that exist between those two worlds.

Kobe was as transparent as any superstar on Earth, and that made him as endearing as any superhero can possibly be. We felt we came to know Kobe, a jarring turn of events after he existed for two decades as the most sinister, malicious and villainous athlete since Michael Jordan, a man so feverishly and obsessively devoted to winning it left him with strained relationships, but five championship rings to warm his bed at night.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

My Gigi

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Sep 3, 2019 at 1:59pm PDT

Suddenly he was approachable, an aloof basketball dad, now fully devoted to family life in a way that somehow seemed even more dedicated than he ever was to his previous profession. It made for a few comical pictures and stories, but it resonated, and the supernatural had become normal. After two decades of Kobe doing things no other human could hope to do, he was doing the things every other human does on a daily basis and it made him even more lovable.

But that turn is what made his sudden death even that much more painful. Kobe was doing something every parent of an athlete has done hundreds of times, taking their child to a game and sharing that intimate ride and alone time that may not exist if the sport had not brought them together for that moment. That’s the innocuous moment that led to the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others, including his own 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

For many, that made the tragedy hit unbearably close to home. Whether as a parent, a coach, someone who was once that kid riding to the game with their parents or any other cog in the village that raises a child. Everybody has been within that equation somewhere, and now the reality of how fleeting those moments can be is staring the entire world in the face, forcing them to come to grips with the fragility of life. Not only your own life, but those closest to you who could be doing something as ordinary as driving to a game on a Sunday morning.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Had a great trip to @uconnwbb for senior night and the retirement of basketball legend @promise50 with my baby Gigi. Thank you Gampel, Thank you Coach Geno and Cd for the warm welcome. Good luck the rest of the way 💪🏾 #mambamentality #wizenard

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Mar 2, 2019 at 9:22pm PST

Once again, Kobe is making everybody feel something. Once again, he’s bringing people together, united by a common cause, and feeling ever so strongly about the topic at hand. Gone is the hate or even the fear for the man they call The Black Mamba. Now that’s been replaced by somber regret, sadness, reflection and perhaps most importantly, appreciation.

Rarely does the death of a complete stranger create ripples in someone’s life, but it seems Kobe’s has caused tidal waves for many. In stripping away the layers of mythology that once shrouded him from normalcy, Kobe was no longer a stranger. He’d become a big brother, an uncle, a friend to so many, even from afar. Kobe spent his entire basketball life as a peerless prodigy, a wonder of the world who was simply unmatched. From the moment he retired he became the exact opposite, he was a peer.

So, on January 26, the world didn’t lose a stranger who played basketball for a living, they lost a peer, a friend who they’d known for over 20 years. Even if you never met Kobe, you met him. You watched him grow, from an innocent, smiling child who dreamed of the impossible, to a hyper-focused brooding adult at work. And what did he become after achieving the impossible over and over? He went right back to smiling, as a gleeful father entering an entirely new and exciting stage of life.

There was a little bit of Kobe in all of us, and that’s why it hurts so bad to lose all of him.

Continue Reading

Michael Jordan Delivers Emotional Speech At Kobe & Gianna Bryant Memorial Service

After Alica Keys delivered a classical performance of "Moonlight Sonata," his basketball idol, Michael Jordan, stepped to the podium to deliver an emotional speech about the late, great Kobe Bryant. As tears fell from his eyes and down his face, Jordan shared his fondest memories of the legend, how close they were as friends, and talked about the late nights where Bryant would ask him questions about life while being that pestering "nuisance" of a little brother.

"At first, it was an aggravation, but then it turned into a passion," he admitted. "This kid had a passion like you would ever know. It's an amazing thing about passion. If you love something, if you have a strong passion for something, you would go to the extreme to try to understand and to try and get it.

"As I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be. To do that, you have to put up with the aggravation, the late-night calls or the dumb questions. I took great pride as I got to know Kobe Bryant," he said tearfully. "That he was just trying to be a better person, a better basketball player. We talked about business, we talked about family, we talked about everything. And he was just trying to be a better person."

"Now he's got me [crying]. I have to look at another crying meme for the next...I told my wife I wasn't going to do this, 'cause I didn't want to see this for the next 3 or 4 years," he said as the crowd broke out in laughter and applause. "That is what Kobe Bryant does to me."

Jordan went on to share another story about how Bryant sent him a late-night/early morning text sharing how he's trying to teach Gianna some moves and asked Jordan if he could remember what he was thinking about at Gianna's age as he was trying to work on his moves.

"I say, 'What age?' He says 12. I said, 'At 12, I was trying to play baseball," continued Jordan before a laughing audience."He sends me a text saying 'laughing-my-a**-off.' And this is at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Jordan went on to address Bryant's wife, Vaness, and their daughters, saying how he and his wife will be there for them, before sending condolences to the families of the other people who perished in the tragic accident. He went on to stress the importance of living in the moment when with "When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died. And as I look in this arena, and across the globe, a piece of you died or else you wouldn't be here. Those are the memories that we have to live with and learn from.

"I promise you from this day forward, I will live with memories of knowing that I had a little brother that I tried to help in every way I could. Please, rest in peace, little brother."

Continue Reading

Top Stories