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Brave to be Involved

Shifting Positions in the Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks

Yomna Saber

Although Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2004) was the first African American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize, she occupies a curious position in the larger black canon. Despite her importance, with the exception of very few critical accounts of her work, she has been usually treated in critical isolation from her black peers, be they male or female. Brooks’s earlier stages were discarded by many black critics as works directed to white audiences, whereas black critics who became interested in her nationalist phase limited her to the Black Aesthetic perspective. Such approaches to Brooks’s opus fail to do justice to her work which stood on equal footing with other groundbreaking works in terms of her pioneering themes and techniques. This book examines all of Brooks’s stages while tracing the changes that marked her voice throughout. By comparing and contrasting her work to Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Ralph Ellison, Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, it becomes possible to highlight the distinct poetic legacy of Brooks. The aim of this book is to assess the extent to which Brooks participated in the black canon and to examine how far her realistic settings and individualised characters resulted in a poetry capable of providing accurate reflections of black life in America throughout five very vibrant decades.