Gwendolyn Brooks Poet
Who is Gwendolyn Brooks? • Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917 and raised in Chicago. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); Blacks (1987); To Disembark (1981); The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986); Riot (1969); In the Mecca (1968); The Bean Eaters (1960); Annie Allen (1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; and A Street in Bronzeville (1945).
Why is She So Important to Illinois? • In 1968 she was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois, and from 1985-86 she was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000.
One of Her More Famous Books • The Bean Eaters, Brooks’s third collection of poetry, was published in 1960, after she had already won the Pulitzer Prize and a number of other awards. In her first two collections, Brooks explored everyday African American life through subjects like home, family, war, racism, and poverty, while melding colloquial speech with formal diction. • In The Bean Eaters, Brooks continued to investigate these same interests, drawing heavily on Chicago’s south-side neighborhood of Bronzeville. However, the book was written during the early years of the Civil Rights movement, during which the Brooks's interest in social issues deepened and found expression in her work. In The Bean Eaters, she employs free verse and refuses to shy away from topics such as educational integration and lynching.
Let’s Look at a Gwendolyn Brooks Poem The Bean Eaters They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair. Dinner is a casual affair. Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood, Tin flatware. Two who are Mostly Good. Two who have lived their day, But keep on putting on their clothes And putting things away. And remembering . . . Remembering, with twinklings and twinges, As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
Let’s Discuss • In your group, discuss the questions on the following slide. • Create a Mind Map to answer the questions. It can be anyway you want it to be. However, my suggestion is to do a mind map: • Name one person to share out with the whole class
Let’s Discuss • Do you think you could sympathize more with the people in this poem if you knew their names? Why or why not? • What do you imagine their room looks like? Why does the poet take such care to describe it? • How would you describe the central characters of this poem? What support do you have for your description? • What do you think is responsible for this old couple's poverty? Is anyone to blame for their present condition? If so, who?
We Real Cool • "We Real Cool" is a poem for anyone who has ever played hooky. Though it's written from the perspective of seven young guys who are hanging out in a pool hall instead of attending class, we never really feel like the pool players are talking. Rather, the speaker is trying to imagine their thoughts. At first you might think the speaker is being judgmental – imagine an older lady wagging her finger and saying, "You darn kids!" But we like to imagine the speaker is kind of playing hooky herself, and one-upping the kids in the pool hall. After all, what the heck is she doing poking her head into a gambling and drinking establishment in the middle of the day? If you've ever seen the Oscar-winning boxing movie Million Dollar Baby, think of the scene where the salty old man played by Morgan Freeman enters the ring with a cocky, young upstart and cleans his clock. The speaker of the poem does something like that here. She sees these guys who think they are "real cool," who think they know something about jazz and "singing sin," and this poem is her response. She says, "I can write words that are more like jazz than you'll ever produce, and I can sum up your entire adolescent existence in 24 words. You'd better run along now back to school and leave the 'singing about sin' to the older folks, like me."
A Synopsis of We Real Cool • The poem lists off the thoughts of some young guys playing pool at a pool house called "The Golden Shovel," that seems pretty straightforward. But it's actually more complicated than that. In fact, the lines we read are what an outside observer thinks these boys might be feeling. So this observer, our speaker, thinks the boys might have dropped out of school, be drinking gin, staying out late at night, enjoying jazz, and will have short lives. How do we know all of this background information? From Gwendolyn Brooks, of course.
We Real Cool • THE POOL PLAYERS. SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL. We real cool. We Left school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. We Die soon.
We Real Cool Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer. • Whose voice and opinions come through in the poem? How does Brooks create a persona for the pool players that both sounds like them and sounds like someone criticizing them? Explain your answer. • Why does Brooks put the word "We" at the end of almost every line? What effect does this have on the way you read the poem? Explain your answer. • To what extent do you think your reading of the poem is influenced by stereotypes? Does Brooks acknowledge or undermine these stereotypes in any way? Explain your answer. • Do the pool players seem like good or bad people? Would you want to hang out with them? Explain your answer. • Does the poem romanticize "sin" or criticize it? Does it have kind of a "boys will be boys" tone? Explain your answer.
Works Cited Academy of American Poets. (1997 - 2013). Gwendolyn Brooks. Retrieved Sept 8, 2013, from Poets.org: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/165 Shmoop University, Inc. (2013). Gwendolyn Brooks. Retrieved Sept 8, 2013, from Shmoop.com: http://www.shmoop.com/bean-eaters/questions.html