One of the dangers of not reading the news regularly is sometimes when you emerge from a week or so of non-news, you find that one or two or more people whose work you admire have passed away.
This weekend I learned that Gwendolyn Brooks passed away on December 3rd, quietly at home, of cancer.
Brooks was probably my favorite poet when I was in grade school and high school. I forget when I stumbled onto her work, but I loved it . . . it had heart, bigtime. And rhythm. And many of her poems told of a world that I really didn't know at all.
Invariably when the time came in English class to pick a poet to research, I'd pick Brooks and then hit the library and check out her books and books about her. From all accounts I read she was a remarkable, caring, giving woman and I always admired that about her, too . . . the work would've been enough, but that she was so classy and giving, too . . . she was an impressive, amazing lady.
This piece by Rohan Preston of the Star Tribune is wonderful, sums her up nicely.
The searing gifts of celebrated artists often are not matched by a correspondingly felicitous humanity.
Gwendolyn Brooks was not just a luminary, singular poet -- endowed with a rare literary style, insight and kind
truthfulness that she unspooled in 20 books, including "Annie Allen," the 1949 volume that made her the first black
person to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was not just a highly esteemed figure -- the recipient of nearly 100 honorary
doctorates and a former U.S. poet laureate when the office was called by another name. She is not just a woman whose
features have been beautifully etched in bronze at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Brooks was more
than a vaunted figure.
[ . . . ]
Brooks was a humane, sociable, sincere and magnanimous person, someone who cared deeply for people, especially
children. In her "Speech to the Young," she wrote: "Say to them, / say to the down-keepers, / the sun-slappers, / the self
soilers, /the harmony hushers, / 'Even if you are not ready for day / it cannot always be night.'"
In a sense, Brooks more closely resembled a social servant or minister, albeit a minister of the word. Although she
ascended the mountain half a century ago, she did not declaim or proclaim from it. She showed her love by quiet action,
mentoring generations of writers of all levels of accomplishment with her own checkbook. For example, she gave
annual awards to 100 poets in every grade from elementary school through college. And she funded these prizes, which
she began in the early 1960s, out of her own pocket.
She will be missed and remembered.