|Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950|
That gets left out when the story is told about how the Chicago poet became the first Black writer to win the honor. Brooks skips it herself in her interview for the American Folklore division of the Library of Congress.
It’s an important detail. Imagine: it’s May 1, 1950, about 6 p.m. in her modest residence at 9134 S. Wentworth Ave. Dusk, and the power is out — her husband, Henry Blakely, no mean poet himself, is having trouble at the auto shop. But their phone still works, and it rings. The Chicago Sun-Times calling — no wonder I like this part — to congratulate her.
“On what?” Brooks asks.
Reporter Jack Star tells her:
“You just won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.”
“I didn’t!” she screams, feeling “sick in the stomach,” she later wrote in her journal.
Whenever somebody tells any history for any reason, it’s smart to pause and wonder why they’re telling that particular story. Toward what end? Diving deeper into Brooks’ win is worthwhile because of the innocence of her “On what?” and the shock of that “I didn’t!” I love that; it makes me feel I’m seeing her before me, not as an about-to-be-famous poet, but as a regular person, a woman standing in a darkened room, finding out that after 20 years of constant effort — she published her first poem, “Eventide,” at 13 — her life has changed. The scream itself is a poem. There was no one there to hear it except her small son. But a few minutes of me tapping on a keyboard, and you can hear an echo now, and maybe think about Brooks. Maybe feel connected to her and seek out her poetry.
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