Appreciating Gwendolyn Brooks
Readable prose is hard to come by in 2017. We are drenched with tweets. Poison-tipped arrows, jargon-laden bullets, and ideological rocks violate our minds. Thus, it is most pleasant to discover that
Jackson, Angela. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks.
Boston: Beacon Press, 2017
is delightfully readable and intellectually refreshing. One imagines Gwendolyn Brooks would bless the accomplishment. The book produces a bright moment when the civility of poetic virtue ascends.
It is easy to forget that appreciation complements evaluation. Jackson, herself an accomplished poet and novelist, was mentored by Brooks. I recall that Brooks admonished Jackson to "crispen the edges" of delivery prior to a 1985 poetry reading in Washington, D. C. Jackson absorbed the good advice and still uses it wisely. The evidence is located in the style and tone she employs in writing a judicious appreciation of her mentor's life and legacy. Without falling into the traps of uncritical hagiography, Jackson details key moments in Brooks's life as a total, brilliantly gifted human being who chose to write. She supports key points about Brooks's evolving poetics with well-chosen anecdotes and quotations. Jackson's prose is discriminating; her rhetorical strategies help us to better appreciate why in the realms of American literature and intellectual history Brooks's works have an honored place.
A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun provides a fine introduction for readers who may know the name Gwendolyn Brooks but who have never read Maud Martha, her two autobiographies, and collected poetry, who have never engaged her legacy. The book also puts those who have expert knowledge about African American writing on notice: they may know a bit less than they believe they know, especially about how furiously literature flowers from one aesthetic /political season to another. The pleasure of reading this book is an act of cognitive renewal.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. June 30, 2017