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Brooks Speaks at Black Men's Forum

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet Featured in Celebration

By Leondra R. Kruger

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks gave a stirring presentation Saturday as part of the Celebration of Black Women sponsored by the Harvard Black Men's Forum.

The weekend-long event, which featured a night of student performances entitled "Phenomenal Woman," a reception with Brooks and a semi-formal gala in Adams House, featured the poet as an example of an "outstanding Black woman."

"It is my hope that through this event we will establish a tradition at the University of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of Black women to our society," said Derrick N. Ashong '97, president of Black Men's Forum.

Brooks, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen in 1950 and has been poet laureate of Illinois since 1968, is best known for her active role in the Harlem Renaissance and her continuing concern for the United State's social problems.

She has composed such poems as "We Real Cool" and "The Lovers of the Poor," and has been awarded more than 70 honorary doctorate degrees.

A crowd of roughly 150 undergraduates assembled in Radcliffe's Lyman common Room to listen and learn from Brooks on Saturday.

In the course of the reading, Brooks combined her poetry with social commentary.

From her poem "Winnie," she quoted, "A poem doesn't do everything for you./You are supposed to go on with your thinking./You are supposed to enrich/The other person's poem with you extensions,/Your uniquely personal understandings,/Thus making the poem serve you."

Brooks said that although she wrote "hundreds" of sonnets over 30 years ago, she doubts she will write another. She said that we are in a "raw, ragged, free-verse kind of time."

Brooks, "sick of...poems that cough lightly," said she considers now to be "the time for...stiff or viscous poems." One can find "bigness in a little haiku," she said.

Brooks discussed her concerns for contemporary families. she recalled how fortunate she was as a child that "I went home to milk and cookies."

She said if children have heard a parent always ask, "What did you learn in school today?' [you should] Count yourself lucky."

"It just felt like you were in the presence ofa legend," said audience member Michael C. Sleet'97.

Brooks, 77, said this would be the last timeshe spoke at Harvard, since she now desires toreach as many campuses and prisons as possiblewhile she's alive.

The poet started her presentation with atribute to the six members of the Harvard BlackMen's Forum who had picked her up at the trainstation, bringing her roses and "Sunshinyrespect."

As the men sang to her on the platform, "Rightunder the eye of the information booth...busypeople stopped to listen...I found it hard to keepfrom weeping," continued Brooks.

In her tribute, Brooks said she was alsoimpressed by the "low-key merry" way these men"treated themselves." She asked rhetorically, "Arethere any here who believe to succeed you mustbe...mean, dry sophisticates?"

Officers of the Black Men's Forum said theybegan planning the event last spring in order toaddress a division they saw within the HarvardBlack community.

"We saw a great deal of tension between Blackwomen and Black men on this campus," said DanielV. Alexandre '97, secretary-treasurer of the BlackMen's Forum. "In order to alleviate thatstrain...we decided we'd take the first step inbuilding bridges."

Language and Unity

Brooks discussed the semantics of race as amicrocosm of the issues she feels the Blackcommunity faces today.

Comparing the words "Black" and"African-American," she described "Black" as"unified," "empowering," an "umbrella" which didnot push out "friends in Africa."

"African-American" has a "honeyed musicality,"she said, which makes it a less effective word.Her character Kojo from her collection ChildrenComing Home says, "I am other thanhyphenation."

She read several other poems from ChildrenComing Homeas well. Her works depictedchildren on their way back from school, preparingto face the fighting adults, drugs, abuse andquestions of their own identity which troubletheir families.

At the end of her presentation, Brooks spentalmost an hour signing copies of her books andspeaking to students.

When Tammy L. Brown '98 presented Brooks with acopy of her own poetry collection I Ain'tChicken, Brooks appeared noticeably touchedand gave Brown a copy of her collectionBlacks.

"Being a young poet myself, therefore having asincere love for words, the reading today waspowerful, moving, and insightful," Brown saidbefore speaking to Brooks. "I felt privileged tosit at the feet of an elder poet."

Phenomenal Woman

Brook's presentation was only one part of theCelebration of Black Women, an event that began onFriday night with "Phenomenal Woman"--named afterthe poem by Maya Angelou--and ended on Saturdaynight with a semi-formal gala in Adams House.

"Phenomenal Woman," held in Lowell LectureHall, featured songs, dance and poetry honoringBlack women.

Observers--including Brooks herself--said thepredominantly female performers "could have beenprofessional."

Black Students Association President Kristen M.Clarke '97 said she applauded the Black Men'sForum for organizing the celebration and takingthe first step in addressing a division within theBlack community at Harvard.

"As a Black woman, it's nice to see a group ofmen who cares so much," Clarke said. "There is alack of substantive communication [between Blackmen and women], of enough Black women rolemodels.

"It just felt like you were in the presence ofa legend," said audience member Michael C. Sleet'97.

Brooks, 77, said this would be the last timeshe spoke at Harvard, since she now desires toreach as many campuses and prisons as possiblewhile she's alive.

The poet started her presentation with atribute to the six members of the Harvard BlackMen's Forum who had picked her up at the trainstation, bringing her roses and "Sunshinyrespect."

As the men sang to her on the platform, "Rightunder the eye of the information booth...busypeople stopped to listen...I found it hard to keepfrom weeping," continued Brooks.

In her tribute, Brooks said she was alsoimpressed by the "low-key merry" way these men"treated themselves." She asked rhetorically, "Arethere any here who believe to succeed you mustbe...mean, dry sophisticates?"

Officers of the Black Men's Forum said theybegan planning the event last spring in order toaddress a division they saw within the HarvardBlack community.

"We saw a great deal of tension between Blackwomen and Black men on this campus," said DanielV. Alexandre '97, secretary-treasurer of the BlackMen's Forum. "In order to alleviate thatstrain...we decided we'd take the first step inbuilding bridges."

Language and Unity

Brooks discussed the semantics of race as amicrocosm of the issues she feels the Blackcommunity faces today.

Comparing the words "Black" and"African-American," she described "Black" as"unified," "empowering," an "umbrella" which didnot push out "friends in Africa."

"African-American" has a "honeyed musicality,"she said, which makes it a less effective word.Her character Kojo from her collection ChildrenComing Home says, "I am other thanhyphenation."

She read several other poems from ChildrenComing Homeas well. Her works depictedchildren on their way back from school, preparingto face the fighting adults, drugs, abuse andquestions of their own identity which troubletheir families.

At the end of her presentation, Brooks spentalmost an hour signing copies of her books andspeaking to students.

When Tammy L. Brown '98 presented Brooks with acopy of her own poetry collection I Ain'tChicken, Brooks appeared noticeably touchedand gave Brown a copy of her collectionBlacks.

"Being a young poet myself, therefore having asincere love for words, the reading today waspowerful, moving, and insightful," Brown saidbefore speaking to Brooks. "I felt privileged tosit at the feet of an elder poet."

Phenomenal Woman

Brook's presentation was only one part of theCelebration of Black Women, an event that began onFriday night with "Phenomenal Woman"--named afterthe poem by Maya Angelou--and ended on Saturdaynight with a semi-formal gala in Adams House.

"Phenomenal Woman," held in Lowell LectureHall, featured songs, dance and poetry honoringBlack women.

Observers--including Brooks herself--said thepredominantly female performers "could have beenprofessional."

Black Students Association President Kristen M.Clarke '97 said she applauded the Black Men'sForum for organizing the celebration and takingthe first step in addressing a division within theBlack community at Harvard.

"As a Black woman, it's nice to see a group ofmen who cares so much," Clarke said. "There is alack of substantive communication [between Blackmen and women], of enough Black women rolemodels.

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