Friday, June 7, 2013

Illinois Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks

I once had the pleasure of receiving an unexpected telephone call from Gwendolyn Brooks. She sponsored a yearly Chicago-area poetry contest and awarded 30 students $100 each. Ten students were chosen from three categories: Grades K-5, Grades 6-8, and High School. One particular year, she awarded seven of my students in her High School category. They were Rhonda Aburomi, Amy Hill, Vicki Martinka, Dan Sullivan, Anna Szymanski, Amanda Vittoe, and Brigid Walsh. She called me in June 1992 to invite my students and me to the University of Illinois Chicago campus awards ceremony. She asked me to address the audience about teaching high school students the art of writing poetry. It was a pleasure... Gwendolyn Brooks was an inspiration to thousands of burgeoning poets. Gwendolyn Brooks was born on June 7, 1917; she died on December 3, 2000.

We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

 Gwendolyn Brooks Bio

To Gwendolyn Brooks, with tongue-in-cheek:

We Real Old by Glen Brown

We real old. We
Gray fools. We

Slow pee. We
Drive slow. We

Lose teeth. We
Sway feet. We

Mash meds. We
Nap heads.


  1. Speak for yourself, and pass the gin.

  2. What a wonderful person she was! When I was an undergrad at WIU, they had a building named in in honor. I investigated her writings, and wrote her a letter saying how much I enjoyed her work. In my note I mentioned, I was studying to be a teacher.About a week later,I received a package from her. Inside was a set of her books and a handwritten note about inspiring others. When I became a junior high language arts teacher, I asked our PTA if they could donate funds to have her speak to our students. I also approached our local high school to see if they wanted to be involved as well. It was a tremendous success.Besides her fee she requested to be picked up at her Hyde Park home. My youngest son, a third grader, was allowed to play "hooky" to hear her. They had a marvelous conversation on the ride to the high school. She gave him an autographed book. My students were enthralled with her readings. She handed out books and signed autographs. My son, who will be 30 in November, still talks about her and cherishes the book she gave him
    Her autobiographies and poetry displayed how much people are alike no matter what the color of their skin.

  3. hi glen. a friend of mine found this blog while googling me and i wanted to let you know that i appreciate the nod. i remember that day very fondly still, the moment that i got to tell gwendolyn that we shared a birthday as well as a desire to stitch words into something bigger than words. :)


  4. Hi Glen! I had no idea! This may be the last Glen fact I didn't know! That was my senior year, by the way :) Now that I'm teaching in your room, I promise I'm trying to preserve your (and Gwendolyn Brooks's) legacy :) This year, our guest poet, Sandra Beasley (who is to me what Stephen Dunn is to you), was so impressed by the poetry program you built. Thank you for letting me continue in your footsteps :)


  5. Thanks for "the tongue in cheek" (due to false teeth) poem, Glen! I laughed so hard, almost made me forget the ramifications of we (being) real old in ILL-Annoy!
    Also remember a wonderful & magical audience w/Gwendolyn Brooks--our wonderful principal decided that she must come speak to our middle school students--&, yes, she was brought in a limousine (the kids were thrilled). That year, some of our students had their poetry published in that wonderful book (is it still published?) "Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans," & the published poets proudly read their works to Ms. Brooks, who commented enthusiastically. One of the reasons I loved teaching.

  6. Thank you for your blog, Glen Brown.

  7. Replies
    1. I wish my emulation wasn't true about old age!