My Dreams, My Works
My Dreams, My Works: Selections from the Library of Gwendolyn Brooks
August 22, 2008 - October 3, 2008
“My Dreams, My Works” features thirty-six items from Gwendolyn Brooks’s personal library, a significant portion of which the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library of Emory University acquired in 2006, adding to the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917, Brooks was an African American poet who has proven to be one of the most influential and celebrated writers of the twentieth century. Brooks’s first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), showcases her ability to capture with exceptional power the people of her South Side Chicago neighborhood—where her family moved in her infancy—traditionally known as Bronzeville. In the vein of such authors as William Faulkner, who wrote of Yoknapatawpha County, and Edgar Lee Masters with his Spoon River, Brooks continued to explore her community in her next collection of poems, Annie Allen (1949). For this volume, she became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize. Brooks published prolifically until her death in 2000, and her widespread acclaim and community impact continued as well: she was invited by President John F. Kennedy to read her work at a 1962 Library of Congress poetry festival; she served as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1985 to 1986 and as the Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1968 to 2000; and she taught creative writing at numerous colleges and universities while traveling nationwide to give poetry readings and writing workshops.
In 1967 Brooks attended Fisk University’s Second Black Writers Conference, and she would come to think of it as the defining experience of her career. Her engagement there with the younger generation such as poets Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee) led to her sustained involvement with the Black Arts Movement. The books following her awakening to this movement, such as In the Mecca (1968), Beckonings (1975), Primer for Blacks (1980), and Winnie (1988), about Winnie Mandela, show Brooks’s solidified commitment to celebrating African American community and to envisioning a more globally-encompassing Black community, “Black” being Brooks’s preferred term. Throughout her work as a writer, teacher, and public champion of African Americans and Black people worldwide in the quest for social justice, Brooks strove to unify and advance disparate and often conflicting individuals and communities. Her dual commitment to celebrating both the commonalities and the differences between individuals is the theme of this exhibition.
In the library of Gwendolyn Brooks we find a sense of unity that nevertheless accounts for uniqueness. The library, which amounts to twenty-four large boxes of material, comprises works by writers from an enormous variety of social and political spheres: hand-made cards by children whose school Brooks visited; books inscribed by Langston Hughes; ephemera from the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements; and closely-studied texts by canonical white authors. Such a fascinating mixture highlights that Brooks was a key influence among multiple literary movements, groups for social activism, and people of all ages and world-views. Through such a confluence, Brooks’s own exceptional voice flourished. This exhibition celebrates her achievement.