GWENDOLYN BROOKS (1917- ), was born in Topeka, Kansas, but was reared in Chicago, where she still lives with her husband and two children. She was an early writer of poetry, contributing to Chicagos’ black newspaper,
, when she was seventeen. Since then she has written several volumes of poetry and has receive many awards and honors for her work, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950. She was the first black woman to receive it.
Brooks is not just a poet, she is also a novelist. In 1953, she published
, a novel about growing up. Brooks rise to fame has been marked by a series of awards and honors. Brooks’ poetry and novel are a source of human truths. Gwendolyn Brooks is to some extent a forerunner of the modern black poets. She deals openly with disillusionment and rejection of the white society, pride of the blacks and appreciation for the poor of the ghetto.
In 1985, Gwendolyn Brooks was named Poetry Consultant to the library of Congress. She was the first black woman to hold this post. When considering the creative output of Gwendolyn Brooks, it is easy to forget that she wrote in the context of a full and active personal life.
The works of Gwendolyn Brooks suggest a mastery of form, language and theme. Students reading poems such as “We Real Cool” and “Children of The Poor” know that this is a person who can identify with their sounds, those of pain and laughter, broken hearts and yesterday’s garbage. There is a bond between the reader and Brooks, one with deep roots.
“We Real Cool”, is a poem that illustrates repetition, rhyme, consonance and alliteration. This poem will serve as an excellent model for imitation in creating personal poems. Students will be using the appropriate adjectives and nouns.
COUNTEE CULLEN (1903-1946), was born in New York, the son of a Methodist minister, published his first book of poems when he was twenty-two. He was educated at New York University and Harvard University and where he received the Master of Arts Degree. He worked as an editor, teacher, and contributor to many periodicals, including
, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people. He spent the last eleven years of his life teaching French in high school.
Countee Cullen was another significant poet of the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry deals with the black search for identity and the meaning of race.
Countee Cullen poems “Yet Do I Marvel” and “Tableau”, were chosen for the mood and tone as well as the poetic devices utilized in each.
ARNA BONTEMPS (1902-1973), was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. When he was four years old the family moved to California where he was educated. After graduating form college, he went to New York to teach. There he formed a close friendship with Langston Hughes and came to know other negro artists of his own generation. Under a grant from the Julius Rosenwald Fund, he visited Haiti and gathered material for several books, among the
Pope and Fifina: Children of Haiti
, which he and Langston Hughes wrote for children. Arna Bontemps is the author of several novels for adults, for children, in addition to
, he has written
You Can’t Pet a Possum
Bontemps’ work spans a half century from the Harlem Renaissance to the 1970’s. His works included: novels, children’s books, poetry, biographies, short stories and anthologies. Bontemps’ poetry is included in almost all of black anthologies and is included in his collection of
, and “A Black Man Talks of Reaping” will be used in this unit.
, is an excellent anthology for young people.
Bontemps’ poems are concerned with the injustices suffered by blacks in the past.
NIKKI GIOVANNI (1943- ), was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1943. She attended Fisk University where she majored in History and graduated in 1967. She is currently teaching creative writing at Rutgers University. Black judgement collection of her poems, appeared in 1968. She also writes short stories and essays, and is an editor of
I have chosen, “Nikki Rosa”, “Mothers”, and “My House”, to emphasize more personal themes such as physical characteristics, emotional needs, a desire to move forward, and appreciation of others, and relationships.
LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967), was born in Missouri. He was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, but continued to write later than most of the others of this period. He wrote poetry, short stories, essays and edited many collections of black literature.
Regardless of form, the subject for most of Hughes’ poetry centers around the black struggle for political power and economic well-being within the American framework of the
Declaration of Independence
Hughes poems are about things that high school students are concerned with, such as dreams, romance, family and jobs.
I have chosen the following poems by Langston Hughes for study, “I, Too, Sing America” “Mother To Son”, and “Salvation”. Hughes’ poems deals with prejudice, simile, repetition, rhymes and imagery.
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR (1872-1906), was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1872. He was the first black poet who became well known throughout the United States. Dunbar started writing poems at the age of 6. He was the only black in his high school class, but his teachers saw his talent. They encouraged him to write poems. He could not afford to go to college. Newspapers would not hire him because of his race. So, Dunbar worked as an elevator operator and wrote poems in his spare time.
Dunbar paid $125 to have a book of his poems printed. He sold copies to passengers on his elevator. Some of them helped him to bring out a second book. A famous white writer, William Dean Howells, saw the book and praised it in his magazine. Soon Dunbar’s work became known throughout the country. Besides his poems, he wrote songs, novels, and short stories. He traveled the country, giving reading from his work.
Dunbar’s work is easily understood by high school students because his poems demonstrate good poetic techniques.
I have chosen for study, “We Wear The Mask”, and “Sympathy”. These two poems illustrate Dunbar’s use of rhyme, imagery, simile, metaphor and repetition in his expression of emotions related to the oppressed black. “We Wear The Mask”, tells of the reality of being black behind smiling masks, in spite of their feelings of grief, sadness and oppression.
The poem “Sympathy”, compares the plight of the blacks to that of caged bird who longs to be set free.