Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and Politics

Winter 2016-2017


Andrew Peart

This course is a comprehensive survey of the work of Chicago writer and activist Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) and an exploration of the artistic and social movements to which she contributed. Brooks was among the most preeminent African American poets of the twentieth century, and she was celebrated during her career as the voice of the social and political concerns both of Black Chicago and of the African Diaspora. In this course we study Brooks’s poetry, from the social realism of A Street in Bronzeville (1945) to the later political poetry of Riot (1968) and Children Coming Home (1991); her prose fiction, including the autobiographical novella Maude Martha (1953); and her memoirs. Along the way, we use close reading to examine Brooks’s aesthetic transformations from high modernism to what she called “versejournalism” and a late, vatic public poetry; and we situate Brooks’s writing in its historical contexts to study her involvements in anti-Jim Crow social protest, Black Arts Movement race nationalism, and Pan-African transnationalism. As a class we will visit sites of importance to Brooks and her life and work in Chicago (e.g., the South Side Community Art Center), and we will invite several speakers to help us understand how Brooks’s work touched social and political life in and beyond Chicago. (C)