Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks” by Suzanne Slade

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, growing up to become the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. As the Poetry Foundation observes, “Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was a much-honored poet, even in her lifetime . . . .”

The author of this book for readers aged 6 and up reports that young Gwendolyn received a great deal of support from her parents, who had a bookcase filled with poems in their home. Each night, her father read some poems aloud, and Gwendolyn memorized them. When she was seven, Gwendolyn began writing poems of her own. Her mother praised her, saying, “You are going to be the lady Paul Laurence Dunbar.” Dunbar, also a Black poet, was Gwendolyn’s favorite.

Writing became a part of Gwendolyn:

“ . . . It was something she just had to do. She carefully strung words together like elegant jewels in perfect meter and time.”

At age eleven, she mailed four of her poems to a newspaper and magazine. They were published, but then the Great Depression began. Money for the arts dried up, and for a while, all of her poems were rejected. Gwendolyn went to college, still reading and writing poetry, while working at menial jobs to support herself. She married another poet, and continued honing her craft. Eventually, her poems won contests and began to appear in print. She kept dreaming, the author writes, and collected her work into a book which she sent to a book publisher in New York. The publisher loved it, even asking for more poems, and the book eventually became A Street in Bronzeville.. A second book followed, Annie Allen, for which she won the greatest prize in poetry: the Pulitzer.

An Author’s Note tells readers that Gwendolyn Brooks went on to write fourteen more books. In her later years, she taught writing classes and sponsored contests to help inspire young poets. There is also a timeline, list of sources, and bibliography.

Illustrator Cozbi A. Cabrera used acrylics to create expressive pictures showing the aspects of Gwendolyn’s life depicted by the text.

You can read some of Brooks’ poems here.

Evaluation: Like other books about persistent girls with dreams who let nothing stand in their way, this one could well have been titled: “Nothing Stopped Gwendolyn!” Young readers will find encouragement and inspiration in her story.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020

Gwendolyn Brooks, age 32

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