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Posted by : cj on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 11:48 AM
Chicago Poetry Archives: Click Headlines CHICAGO MOURNS THE LOSS OF GWENDOLYN BROOKS


I just wanted to report and share a few thoughts with you on Gwendolyn Brooks's funeral, now that I have made my way back from the tundra. in dramatic, poetic fashion, the snow fell ---the snow blizzarded -- the snow came down faster than it has in Chicago's history, and that is saying something. But they kept on coming through the wet wilderness to pay their final respects. the tree branches looked like calligraphic poetry against the utterly white sky; it was unforgettable.

Cave Canem was well-represented -- i saw Tyhemba Jess, Renee Moore, Opal Moore, Quraysh Ali Lansana, beloved Sonia Sanchez, Toni Asante Lightfoot, and Joanne Gabbin (who, I must add, looked like a movie star in her tropical green suit), and perhaps there were others. The likes of August Wilson sat quietly toward the back. GB was honored with a letter from Bill and Hillary Clinton, by many college presidents and digitaries and Chicagoans, by her incredibly collected children, Nora and Henry. Mayor Daley gave a moving tribute. Given all the repression and racial unrest his father (the infamous Mayor Daley) fomented, I thought, we have come at least a little way. Whoda thunk it??? Flute and piano and shekeres and calbashes and drums and women in white and dancing. Unforgettable Studs Terkel, American original, friend of GB for 55 years. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the Dusable Musuem, friend of GB since HIGH SCHOOL and early witness to her poetic genius (and that of her late husband, Henry Blakely). Oscar Brown Junior, still fine as he wanna be with his white beard and south side dip-in-the-walk, sang (acapella) a version of GB's "dewitt williams on the way to lincoln cemetary" ( where she would be buried) -- i will NEVER forget Oscr Brown Junior singing that song; he sang to the saints and the sinners; it was electrifying. Haki Madhubuti of course eulogized, and it was very moving to see him -- such a stoic, I've always observed -- trying to compose himself, letting the tears come. Other musical performers included Emily Lansana, and her performing partner, Glenda Baker. Speakers shared their thoughts as well as Miss Brooks's words (lots of the sermons on the warpland, and from Terkel, a robust version of "the rites for cousin vit"). It was a beautiful service. Lerone Bennet was a great officiator.

After I left, and as I ruminated, I felt myself wishing for more. I wished sorely for the voices of more poets --- Sonia right there in the audience, and Lucille, and Baraka, and Michael Harper, just off the top of my head -- people who loved her, people who could testify form the poet side. Joanne had faxed words from Sam Allen, but the program was full. Dolores Kendrick gave a lovely tribute, but I also longed for tribute from the likes of Stanley Kunitz, Robery Pinsky, Rita Dove, Adrienne Rich (again, just off the top of my head), the Poetry Society of America, the Academy of American Poets, etc etc. THIS WAS A MAJOR TWENTIETH CENTURY VOICE. I know funerals and memorials are different animals, and I know there are already tributes in the works for Ms. Brooks. but I thought of the legendary send-offs for James Baldwin, Alvin Ailey, Romare Bearden, and Audre Lorde, in the cathedral of St. John the divine in nyc, sendoffs that bore fulsome witness to their genius and cultural impact. I wondered, and perhaps someone knows, what was Langston Hughes's funeral like? Robert Frost's? I am thinking of poets as important and widely beloved as Ms. Brooks. These thoughts of course come in the spirit of deepest love and respect for Ms. Brooks, so I hope they don't seem curmudgeonly or inappropriate. It was a beautiful day. But there is more sending off to come before we have really bid adieu to this great, great woman.

Two final things stood out for me --- many people thanked Henry and Nora "for sharing your mother," and we should, too. Mama is Mama, and though it must have been amazing for them to see how much she meant to others, it must have also been hard sometimes to let her go and share so much of herself. Also, it was said that every single night, GB slept with pen, paper, and her dictionary by her bedside. As poets, we should strive for such utter devotion and precision, and love and faith in the word and its power.

reprinted with permission from cyberdrum

Dear Friends,

Just wanted to let you know that the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing will have a memorial service honoring the life and works of Gwendolyn Brooks on Friday, January 19, 2001, at

Chicago State University
9501 S. King Drive
Chicago, Illnois
Robinson University Center, Rms A&B
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

There is a permanent memorial for Gwendolyn Brooks Blakely on Memories, notes, or poems may be sent to :
fax 888-397-3366

Juliette Bethea
Washington, DC
(info courtesy of brother kalamu)

12/04/00: Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois, died on Sunday, December 3rd, of a cancer she was only diagnosed with a week ago. Ms. Brooks died in her own home on the South Side of Chicago, with the instrument of her art, a writing pen, in her hand. Gwendolyn Brooks was not only a brilliant poet but a groundbreaking voice for African Americans; in 1950, she was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize. Though a national celebrity, she had always maintained her ties with her native Chicago. To read more on Brooks, there are several links under "B" in the NETwork List. Letters in memory of Ms. Brooks will be immediately posted in Letter eX; send them to

All of us at express the deepest sympathy for her family and friends, and we are grateful for her contribution to the literary arts in Chicago, America and the world.


We are all deeply saddened by the loss of our great friend and great poet, Gwendolyn Brooks. She passed away on Sunday, December 3rd, surrounded by family and close friends. Ms. Brooks' world-renowned stature as a poet was only equalled by her personal kindness and integrity. She was a long-time and much-loved friend of the Guild Complex. Characteristic of her commitment to emerging writers and her legendary generosity, Ms. Brooks supported the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Awards sponsored by the Complex, writing a check from her own pocket each year to award an emerging writer. She read at many of our events, including last year's 10th Anniversary Benefit and Poets Across Generations with Haki Madhubuti. We called her the "Patron Saint of the Guild Complex." Guild Books hosted one of the earliest readings of Ms. Brooks together with her daughter, poet/playwrite Nora Brooks Blakely. Michael Warr and I were honored to receive the Gwendolyn Brooks "Significant Illinois Poet" Award in 1989, an award she created as Illinois Poet Laureate. We all miss her deeply, and send our love to her family and many friends.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Gwendolyn Brooks Young Writers Awards, PO Box 19355, Chicago 60619.

Julie Parson-Nesbitt
Guild Complex


It was a gray, dreary day on Sunday, December 10th, on the south side of Chicago, as friends, family, poets and fans paid their respects to the recently passed Illinois Poet Laureate, Gwendolyn Brooks. Ms. Brooks began writing poetry at a time when African Americans weren't even given the equal right to vote in this country, and it seemed foreboding that she was laid to rest at a time when the United States Supreme Court, through partisan politics, was in effect contemplating stripping that right away once again.

A. A. Raynor and Sons Funeral Home, at 318 E. 71st St., was solemn as a steady stream of mourners entered and exited the building. Out of respect, we were asked not to take any images of the remains of Ms. Brooks, but as I knelt before her and looked into her face, she seemed to express satisfaction with a life full of achievement.

Tears fell from this publisher / poet's eyes, as he walked through a frenzy of media coverage outside the building after saying goodbye to Chicago's beloved poet. Outside, the air smelled of a coming storm.

The city of Chicago, indeed America, has lost one of its greatest voices. But the writing lives on. It is time to celebrate Gwendolyn Brooks' life--to live by her example. She was not only one of the greatest poets ever to live, but she was a true advocate of humanity and truth. Her words have not died.

There has been no word yet as to who will replace Ms. Brooks in her Poet Laureate position.


The Public Broadcasting System's Chicago Tonight: The Week In Review saluted the life of Gwendolyn Brooks with a panel discussion on Dec. 6th, featuring, among others, Michael Warr. "I use to tease (Ms. Brooks)," Warr said of how he met the Poet Laureate through the Guild Complex. "I'd tell her, I'm a poet. It's because of you. It's all your fault." Warr said receiving the Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Poet award was "one of the greatest" moments of his life. He has received many other poetry related awards, but "none of them meant as much" to him as that one. He described Brooks' later work as an "expression of a content," instead of being formal, and to demonstrate this, he read an excerpt from her poem "The Blackstone Rangers."

"In talking about her career," Parisi said, "there are different Gwendolyn Brooks' that appear. In the early work, she was quite formalist. She liked to write sonnets. She had the form, but the content was quite different" . . . (it was based on) "real life experiences from people she knew from her life, her community . . . this was one constant in her work" (even after her form loosened up). Parisi said Brooks is immortalized because "countless millions know her work by heart." Her work is "part of the consciousness" of people. Poetry Magazine first published Gwendolyn Brooks in 1944.

Bolden quoted Haki Madhubuti in describing Ms. Brooks as "kind and generous," mentioning how Brooks gave eight $1000 Henry Blake Awards out this year alone. Bolden also explained that though we might know Brooks best for her appearances at readings and universities, "most of her appearances were at elementary and high schools." She said Brooks "gave voice to the voiceless" and that she "manipulated the sonnet form, and that's one of the ironies" of Brooks' work. All four guests in this panel discussion read selections of Ms. Brooks' poetry.

Royster said "a whole other side of her personality appears in (Gwendolyn Brooks') poetry. Her poetry is not generally kind. She's very satirical. She has an ironic voice. And she has a vision. She expresses the anguish, the hatred, the vengeful feelings . . ." Royster also explained that Ms. Brooks' "had modernist (and) experimentalist syntax."

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