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  • Writer's pictureArchuleta A. Chisolm

Gwendolyn Brooks: When You Know You Know

I started writing when I was about nine years old. My Nana gave me a black and white composition book and some pencils, and encouraged me to put my imagination on the page. I wrote little stories about what was going on in my family, and with my Barbie dolls’ lives. After that, poetry entered my world and soon became the thing that excited me the most.

I was fascinated with words, learning new words, and how I could make them rhyme. It wasn’t anything else I’d rather do, or that could give me such a feeling.

Gwendolyn Brooks felt the same way. In fact, she often stated that she couldn’t recall a time when she did not want to be a poet. She was already an accomplished author at fifteen-years-old, and the first Black writer to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1950.

She felt in unnecessary to pursue a college degree, because she knew that she wanted to be a writer. "I am not a scholar," she later said. "I'm just a writer who loves to write and will always write." She obtained a two-year degree and worked as a typist, only to support herself while she pursued her writing career.

What grips me about Gwendolyn Brooks is that she understood her direction and followed it, despite the norms. She said that it didn’t matter what anyone said or didn’t say about her writing – “I had to be a poet.”

In an interview, her goal was clear: “I want to write poems that will be non-compromising. I don’t want to stop a concern with words doing good jobs, which has always been a concern of mine, but I want to write poems that will be meaningful… things that will touch them.”

Her writing always reflected a commitment to racial identity and equality, and also managed to bridge the gap between poets of different generations. Her work eventually took on the voice of the times in the 60’s - racism and injustice.

Growing up, I kept returning to poetry. I had to write, even if no one knew about it. Even if no one read my work, I had to write.

The desire to be who we want to be often gets cloudy, because we don’t know what that looks like. We often believe that our goals are not attainable due to what we’re lacking. What I know for sure is that sometimes what we lack is the catalyst for our change. It pushes us to that space of never letting go. And no matter what we will get there.

Keep going.

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