Review of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    48 pp.    g
4/20    978-1-4197-3411-3    $17.99

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) grew up on the South Side of Chicago “with little money to spare,” but her childhood home was rich in volumes of poetry, which her father read aloud and which she memorized. She began writing poems at the age of seven; at eleven, dreaming of an “ecstatically exquisite” future, she sent some of her best writing out and was published in a local newspaper and then a national magazine. Years of setbacks followed — including the Great Depression, many rejections from publications, and struggles to pay the bills — but only increased her devotion to her work. She wrote about the people she knew and observed in her Bronzeville ­neighborhood — “the nonstop busyness, the hard-luck grittiness.” She was a wife and mother before she got her first book of poems published, and poetry still didn’t pay the bills. But Brooks ­dancing with her son in an ­electricity-less apartment upon being informed she had won the Pulitzer Prize is a quietly joyful conclusion to her search for her future. Cabrera’s strong, carefully composed acrylic illustrations beautifully evoke both the joy and the hardship in Brooks’s everyday life and in the life of the community that inspired her. Slade’s attention to detail, vigorous prose, and judicious use of the poet’s own words make this biography, and its subject, stand out. Appended with an author’s note, a timeline, a selected bibliography, and source notes.

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Autumn Allen
Autumn Allen

Autumn Allen is an educator, writer, critic and independent scholar of children's and young adult literature. She holds an MA-MFA in children's literature and writing for children from Simmons University, and a master's degree in education from Harvard University. She is the 2020-2021 Writer in Residence at the Boston Public Library.

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