Monday, January 16, 2012

Library Walk: Gwendolyn Brooks

In 1996, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Whether it be a birth day, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time -- quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature.

To mark this new feature we begin with the aptly named "poetry..." plaque commemorating the work of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000).

"A poem doesn't do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person's poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you."

Inspired by Winnie Mandela, Song of Winnie from 1988 continued Gwendolyn Brooks social observations through her poetry. A commentary that began with the publication in 1945 of, A Street in Bronzeville. Bronzeville is a neighborhood in Chicago's South Side where the Kansas born Brooks called home for most of her life.

Gwendolyn Brooks won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1949 collection of poems, Annie Allen becoming the first African-American to win a Pulitzer in any discipline. Langston Hughes said of Annie Allen, "The people and poems... are alive, reaching and very much of today."

After the publication of  Winnie in 1988, Brooks remarked to an interviewer, "I want to write poems that will be non-compromising. I don't want to stop a concern with words doing good jobs, which has always been a concern of mine, but I want to write poems that will be meaningful . . . things that will touch them."

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