Wednesday, February 2, 2022

History is a journey we all must take together

Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950
     Winning the Pulitzer Prize nauseated Gwendolyn Brooks.
     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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  1. There is an old saying "Be careful what you wish for." The Republicans have hit the hornets' nest and have created a major stinging for themselves (hopefully). When my sons were in their teen years, I never overemphasized what I didn't want them to do or read. That was bound to make them want to do or read whatever it was even more.

    Maus will now be read by thousands of people who had never heard of it. The same will be true of so many other books that are being banned throughout the country. I have a feeling there will be even more emphasis on Black History this month than there has been in the past.

    People who were somehow able to turn a blind eye to what was happening during Trump's reign of terror and even before that will find it hard to do so going forward. It remains to be seen if, however, they will take any actions based on this new loss of innocence.

  2. On the first day of black history month 12 historically black colleges have received bomb threats. The Trump era has emboldened racists like little else in our history. Isn't the fact that historically black colleges even exist a hint that critical race theory might be worthy of examination?

  3. "To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain ever a child." Cicero


  4. An excellent column, indeed.

    "The Republicans aren’t erasing America’s racist history; they’re adding to it."

    A simple sentence that brilliantly distills the stupidity and shortsightedness of the ridiculous, manufactured CRT brouhaha to its essence.

  5. "...don your wool-lined leather jacket and climb into the tail gunner position of a B-17 Flying Fortress and go get those ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt."

    Which I've been doing for about sixty years now, ever since I was fourteen. But those who aren't familiar with the air war in Europe might want to pick a less costly target.

    The combined Schweinfurt-Regensburg Raid. on August 17, 1943, cost the USAAF 60 B-17s and 55 aircrews. The crews lost totaled 552 men, of whom half became prisoners of war and twenty were interned by the Swiss. In addition to the bomber force, the Allies lost three P-47 Thunderbolts and 2 Spitfires. Though Allied losses were severe, they succeeding in inflicting heavy damage on both the Messerschmitt plants and the ball bearing factories.

    Two months later, in October, the USAAF returned to Schweinfurt. Of the 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses sent on the mission, 60 were lost, another 17 damaged so heavily that they had to be scrapped, and another 121 had varying degrees of battle damage. Losses represented over 26 percent of the attacking force and losses in aircrew were equally severe, with 650 men lost of 2,900, 22 percent of the bomber crews. The second Schweinfurt raid was considered a failure, and long trips into Germany were sharply curtailed for some time to come.

    But I've never tired of reading about the air war in Europe. My uncle was a waist gunner in B-17s nd B-24s, in North Africa and Italy. Heard some combat stories that straightened my curly Jewish hair.

  6. We Real Cool

    The Pool Players.
    Seven at the Golden Shovel.

    We real cool. We
    Left school. We

    Lurk late. We
    Strike straight. We

    Sing sin. We
    Thin gin. We

    Jazz June. We
    Die soon.

    (from The Bean Eaters, 1960)



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