Archive for Thursday, October 24, 1996


October 24, 1996


Renown poet Gwendolyn Brooks uses her verse to speak her mind.

Before Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks read one stanza Wednesday night, she laid it on the line about words.

"They have unbounded power," she said, addressing nearly 1,700 quiet listeners at the Lied Center. "We live through the effects of our words and other people's words."

Then with a strong and deep voice that hopped between octaves and crescendoed from a whisper to a near-shout, the successor to Carl Sandburg as Poet Laureate of Illinois delivered her works. One by one. Subject by subject. Some interrupted by explanations; some allowed to fall on the air for the crowd to snatch and interpret.

Brooks, who received standing ovations when she walked onto the stage and then after her one-hour presentation, is known for her poems that speak frankly about racism, child abuse and homelessness.

"There's no point to picking up pen and paper unless you put the truth on that paper," the Topeka native said.

Brooks shared her thoughts about unrecognized, hard-working people in "Behind the Scenes." When she sees presidents, vice presidents and secretaries of state lined up in front of stark white columns, she thinks about the "somebody who got there early and dusted, the somebody who buffed his shoes," the perfect-looking shirt that was "not achieved by his agility" but by "somebody who was powerful."

Brooks said she hates two phrases: "inner city" and "African American." The first is suppressing; the second is a cold exclusion. She prefers to be called Black, with a capital B.

"Black was wide-stretching, an empowering umbrella," she said. "My objection to African American is not popular, but (the phrase is) weak and limiting. ... Black comes out to meet you eye to eye."

Brooks said young writers have a message unlike those expressed before and can make magic out of common words.

"You're as important as William Shakespeare," she said encouragingly, as her eyes seemed to search for unwrinkled faces in the audience. "You're as important as Emily Dickinson or Langston Hughes."

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