Cover image for African American writers : portraits and visions
Title:
African American writers : portraits and visions
Author:
Koolish, Lynda.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [2001]

©2001
Physical Description:
x, 122 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781578062584
Format :
Book

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East Delavan Branch Library PS153.N5 K66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction On Display
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Hamburg Library PS153.N5 K66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Frank E. Merriweather Library PS153.N5 K66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Oversize
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Frank E. Merriweather Library PS153.N5 K66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
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Summary

Summary

Ai Will Alexander Robert Allen Maya Angelou Amiri Baraka Paul Beatty David Bradley Gwendolyn Brooks Ed Bullins Barbara Christian Cheryl Clarke Lucille Clifton Wanda Coleman Edwidge Danticat Angela Davis Toi Derricotte Samuel R. Delany Rita Dove Frances Smith Foster Ernest Gaines Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Nikki Giovanni Jewelle Gomez Rosa Guy Forrest Hamer Michael S. Harper Essex Hemphill Charles Johnson June Jordan Randall Kenan Jamaica Kincaid Yusef Komunyakaa Audre Lorde Nathaniel Mackey Haki Madhubuti Clarence Major Paule Marshall Colleen McElroy Toni Morrison Walter Mosley Harryette Mullen Albert Murray Gloria Naylor Barbara Neely Pat Parker Ishmael Reed Faith Ringgold Kalamu ya Salaam Sonia Sanchez Sapphire Ntozake Shange Quincy Troupe Derek Walcott Alice Walker Afaa Michael Weaver John Edgar Wideman John A. Williams Sherley Anne Williams August Wilson Al Young

Over a period of thirty years Lynda Koolish has been photographing African American authors in their homes, at public readings, in universities, and at conferences and festivals.

As this volume of her photographs presents the faces of acclaimed African American writers, it also highlights the diversity within African American literature and celebrates the many genres it explores. Koolish includes authors of diverse identities--Caribbean writers who have immigrated to the United States, writers of mixed heritage, writers who proudly proclaim their African roots, playwrights, poets, novelists, critics, scholars, short story writers, oral storytellers, and memoirists.

Koolish's photographs convey a sense of clarity, warmth, and beauty. Along with each portrait she provides a short biographical essay that comprises the artistic vision of the author. Her superb gallery of fifty-nine black-and-white photographs presents a grand assembly.

"We know these authors," Cynthia Tucker says. "We know their words. We can quote favorite passages from their essays, their poems, their novels. Yet we have rarely seen their faces. We have rarely seen them reading their works, talking to audiences, explaining their views. We know some important part of them but cannot attach to it a pair of eyes, a furrowed brow, a head full of dreadlocks. Now we can look at the eyes that see so much, that transform our understanding of the world. And we can look for, even if we cannot hope to find, the source of their genius."

This is the first book devoted exclusively to photographic portraits of African American writers since Carl Van Vechten's work featuring Harlem Renaissance writers in the 1920s and 1930s.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Koolish's elegant black-and-white photographs of African American writers seem empathic, as though the camera channeled more than mere light and shadow to drink in the writers' thoughts and feelings, the hum of their minds and thrum of their bodies. Each studied yet dynamic portrait is accompanied by a brief essay in which Koolish, a professor of literature as well as a photographer, describes with precision and zest the timbre of the writers' voices, the spirit of their work, and the significance of their contribution to the canon. Here's Wanda Coleman standing at a mike poised for action yet arrested in contemplation, one of 12 writers holding their hands to their heads, a thinker's habit. August Wilson and Haki R. Madhubuti smile; Lucille Clifton and Edwidge Danticat are about to. Clarence Major, Albert Murray, Yusef Komunyakaa, Paule Marshall, and Sonia Sanchez are serious, reflective, receptive. Koolish's absorbing portraits, most of recent vintage, some from the 1980s, document 60 writers essential to American letters and, in a very real sense, to a richly imagined life. Donna Seaman


Library Journal Review

This oversize volume by Koolish (literature, San Diego State Univ.) features 59 full-page, black-and-white photographs of African American writers, from poet Ai through Al Young, reminiscent of Carl Van Vechten's classic portraits from the Harlem Renaissance. Though not as highly stylized as those early works, Koolish's studies speak to the broad range of living or recently deceased writers who make up contemporary African American literature. Each photo is accompanied by a full-page biography of the subject, which moves the work away from a simple coffee-table collection toward a more useful reference work. The buyer should note, however, that the photos themselves range over a 20-year period and may not reflect the image we have of the author today. A fitting accompaniment to and update of Van Vechten's Generations in Black and White: From the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection (Univ. of Georgia, 1997. reprint); recommended for all libraries. Anthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ., TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Ai Ai's poetry responds unflinchingly to the violence of contemporary life in a language that many find horrifying. Her dramatic monologues are transgressive, edgy, surreal, visceral. Scoundrels abound in her poems, because, as she suggests, "there's a lot more to talk about, looking at your scoundrels."     Despite the disclaimer to Vice: New and Selected (1999) that her poems "do not denote or pretend to private information about actual living persons," her poetic narrators include a wide range of identifiable victims and perpetrators of violence: among them, an ex-football player driving too fast in a white Ford Bronco; Manhattan Project leader J. Robert Oppenheimer; Mary Jo Kopechne, whose appearance serves to reminds us that this "melodrama" is about her life, not Edward Kennedy's; and Lyndon Johnson, whose squalid dreams of Vietnam are those of a sexual predator. The violence of her images, however, is not gratuitous. Ai insists, "I do not write about race, social continent, etc., but about people, life, suffering, and am now trying to bring about the transfiguration of men and women in my poetry."     In "Before You Leave," Ai assumes the persona of a woman who is powerfully strong, not traditionally "feminine": "You can bite me, I won't bleed." In "The Country Midwife: A Day," a callous midwife offers a chilling description of childbirth: "A scraggly, red child comes out of her into my hands / like warehouse ice sliding down the chute." The poem "Lesson, Lesson" speaks in the hardened voice of an impoverished, exhausted mother who warns her child that next year, there will be one more "little-gimme-fill-my-belly/ ... because your daddy a hammer. / Hard-time nail in his pants. / He feel wood beneath him, he got to drive it home." Ai reveals to her readers a troubled universe, a world of hidden pain and denied suffering, but also one of sometimes startling empathy. In "She Didn't Even Wave," for example, a poem dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, Ai imaginatively and compassionately embraces Monroe as emotional kin. Her first book, Cruelty, published in 1973 to great critical acclaim, was followed by Killing Floor (1979), the Lamont Poetry selection of the Academy of American poets. Other collections of her poems include Sin (1986), Fate: New Poems (1991), and Greed (1993), which opens with "Riot Act, April 29, 1992," a poem about the aftermath of the Rodney King beating, its narrator a South Central Los Angeles rioter, caught by the police but nonetheless ruefully grateful for "the day the wealth finally trickled down." Vice, her most recent volume, won the National Book Award. She recently completed a quartet of poems about the 1921 Tulsa race riot (an event that also provoked the literary imagination of Toni Morrison, who alludes to it in her novel, Paradise ).     Japanese, Choctaw, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche Indian, as well as Dutch, Irish, and African American, Ai, whose name means "love" in Japanese, was born in 1947 in Albany, Texas, and lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma, where she is a tenured full professor at Oklahoma State University. This photograph was taken in the mid 1990s at "Border Voices," San Diego's annual celebration of poetry and music. Will Alexander Will Alexander pushes language and philosophy till the seams fray, stretching old systems of sense into a quilted collage of meanings. In his first books, Vertical Rainbow Climber (1987) and Arcane Lavender Morals (1994), his poetry not only records but also recodes. Alexander seems to engage every system of language at once. His most recent book of poetry, Above the Human Nerve Domain (1998), constructs a poetry from the languages of astronomy, nuclear physics, cellular biology, and philosophy. The glossary provides the reader with a handful of lexical footholds, for example: " Aleph is a number greater than the number that is greater than infinity." The poems, however, ultimately transcend the need of a glossary, as words become unmoored from their old meanings. Alexander is an alchemist who turns leaden technical language into poetic platinum.     In Alexander's Asia and Haiti , a two-poem edition from Sun and Moon Press, philosophy, spirituality, politics, and history are woven together so that the reader is forced to realize that they have never been separate issues. These poems critique both communism and capitalism, but instead of locating this critique in a falsely objective perspective, Alexander uses a collective voice to engage in the rituals of resistance. Asia is delivered in the "voice of rebellious Buddhist monks," while in Haiti , the collective voice belongs to Les Morts , "the unnamed dead," Haitians tortured and killed during the rule of Papa Doc Duvalier.     Andrew Johnson's essay "On Alexandrian Philosophy," the introduction to Will Alexander's Towards the Primeval Lightning Field (1998), discusses Alexander's approach to rhetoric: "Alexander's methodology here is neither deductive nor inductive, but con ductive. Thesis passes into antithesis with electric fluidity, never terminating in synthesis: the relationship between statements is nonhierarchical and non-cumulative." The text itself illustrates this conductive method with a startling and erudite difficulty Johnson's description could not encapsulate: "The old chronological towers are ash, are prisms of disfigurement, symbolic of a world cancelled by consumptive inmelodias. As for alchemical transition, we face the raising of new sea walls, of banished and reengendered electorates, trying to cope with new intensities of weather, as the anomalous hypnotically increases with the power of inverse subjective.... And so, I speak of a new being of symbols, of lucid catacombs and spirals, its language being spun in fabulous iguana iridium." Born in Los Angeles in 1948, Will Alexander is currently a visiting professor of writing at the University of California, in San Diego. This photograph was taken at the San Francisco Book Fair in 1999. Robert L. Allen Robert Allen, activist, social reformer, and editor for the Black Scholar , not only records social change, but also facilitates it. In an interview Allen commented on the way in which participating in sit-ins and demonstrations influenced his later work: "I became very interested in how the system of social segregation came to be, how society works, how social change movements develop. That experience in the civil rights movement was a major factor pushing me to become interested in studying social change."     His first book, Black Awakening in Capitalist America (1969), a study of the black freedom movement of the 1960s, charts the course of a social revolution, a process he describes in the book's introduction as "never direct, never a straight line proceeding smoothly from precipitating social oppression to the desired social liberation." For this project, Allen examined the relationships among ideologies of Black Power, Black Nationalism, and corporate imperialism. The arguments in this book are both complemented and complicated by Allen's 1974 collaboration with Pamela Allen, in Reluctant Reformers: Racism and Social Reform Movements in the United States, a study of the ideological impact of racism on predominantly white social reform movements.     In 1977 Allen was awarded a Guggenheim that he used to begin the research for the text that would become his celebrated and award-winning 1989 book, The Port Chicago Mutiny . Allen's detailed study of this event was the primary inspiration for the award-winning documentary Port Chicago Mutiny: A National Tragedy , a dramatic exploration of the U.S. Navy's egregious and discriminatory World War II ammunition loading policy. Black enlisted men were the only ones assigned to the dangerous task of loading ammunition into the liberty ships, and few safeguards were in place; white officers frequently hurried the process along as a kind of mock athletic contest. Allen revealed the courage of one loading crew who refused to return to work after an accident resulting in the deaths of many of their coworkers. The Navy convicted many of these sailors on charges of mutiny and treason, sentencing them to long prison terms. No official investigation into the Port Chicago mutiny was conducted until Allen brought this near-forgotten tragedy to light. The unjustly convicted men were then finally granted a presidential pardon.     In 1995 Robert L. Allen co-edited, with Herb Boyd, Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America, an anthology that includes nearly 150 writers discussing, reflecting, and constructing the collective experience of black men.     Born in Atlanta in 1942, Allen lives and works in San Francisco, where he is a senior editor at the Black Scholar . This photograph was taken in San Francisco in 1988, at a book party for Alice Walker's children's book To Hell With Dying . Maya Angelou Maya Angelou's writing is a public record of a private life. Poet, filmmaker, a dancer who studied with Martha Graham, singer, actress, and much beloved autobiographer, Angelou writes of her fierce, all-powerful grandmother as a kind of implacable warrior in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970): "Momma said she wanted to see Dentist Lincoln and to tell him Anne was there. The girl closed the door firmly. Now the humiliation of hearing Momma describe herself as if she had no last name to the young white girl was equal to the physical pain. It seemed terribly unfair to have a toothache and a headache and have to bear at the same time the heavy burden of Blackness." In the memoir/fable of her life in Stamps, Arkansas, the young Marguerite imagines her Momma extracting a tremulous apology from Dentist Lincoln with more cool, cerebral skill than any dentist could ever hope to display in the mere act of tooth extraction!     This first volume of her autobiography, later adapted for television, was followed by Gather Together in My Name (1974), Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas (1976), and the much admired The Heart of a Woman (1981). In her 1986 volume, All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes , a geographic inversion of traditional slave narratives, Angelou travels from America to Africa, bent on a journey to self-discovery, identity, and freedom. Describing her stay in Ghana, she powerfully relates the story of encountering a Kita woman unshakably convinced by Angelou's appearance that Angelou must be from the tribe of Kita villagers: "Descendants of a pillaged past saw their history in my face and heard their ancestors speak through my voice.... Now I knew my people had never left Africa. We had sung it in our blues, shouted it in our gospel.... It was Africa which rode in the bulges of our high calves, shook in our protruding behinds and crackled in our wide open laughter." More recent additions to this body of work include Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1993) and Even the Stars Look Lonesome (1999).     Angelou's first book of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water `fore I Diiie (1971), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (1994) includes the Clinton inaugural poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," and selections from her other five volumes of poetry: Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well (1975), And Still I Rise (1978), Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? (1983), and I Shall Not Be Moved (1990).     Nominated for an Emmy in 1977 for her performance in Roots , she made her feature film directorial debut with Down in the Delta in 1998.     Born Marguerite Johnson in 1928 in St. Louis, Angelou is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. The author of several plays and many children's books, she says of her work: "I write for the Black voice and any ear which can hear it." This photograph was taken at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1994 at a fundraiser for the progressive Berkeley mayoral candidate Don Jelenik. Amiri Baraka A moving target is harder to hit, and Amiri Baraka, poet, playwright, critic, musicologist, and ideologue, has been consistently in motion since he first made his public appearance with his Beat-inspired poetry collection, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961). While his artistic power has never been in doubt, its alliance, and often subordination, to the shifting ideologies that Baraka has embraced since the 1960s has discomfited readers who like their art and their politics in air-tight containers. Baraka himself acknowledges the movement: "The typology that lists my ideological changes ... as `Beat-Black Nationalist-Communist' has brevity going for it, and there's something to be said for that, but, like the notations of [Thelonius] Monk, it doesn't show the complexity of real life." Nothing could be more complex than Baraka's intense, searching, vibrant intellect and the torrent of art and commentary it has produced.     Baraka's Black Nationalist period has been his most influential. His poetry, drama, and cultural and political activity dominated African American letters during the 1960s and '70s, defining the Black Arts Movement and guiding the next generation of writers who came of age under its influence. His incendiary play, Dutchman (1964), portraying a surrealistic confrontation between a white woman and a black man, exposed a violent, complex, and emotional racism that America had never before seen on stage. Critic Carl Brucker suggests both the setting and title of the play "remind the audience of the packed holds of Dutch slave traders, which brought the first African to Jamestown; the historic Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape the South; and the legendary Flying Dutchman , the cursed phantom ship which endlessly sails the seas." As Baraka moved further into black radicalism, the loose poetic form he had inherited from the Beats dissolved altogether; language itself sometimes slipped its logocentric moorings--any hint of l'art pour l'art dissolved by Baraka's rage: "We want `poems that kill.' / Assassin poems. Poems that shoot / Guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys / And take their weapons leaving them dead / With tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland. Knockoff / Poems for dope selling wops or slick halfwhite / Politicians. Airplane poems, rrrrrrrrrrrrrr / rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ... tuhtuhtuhtutuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuhtuh/ ... rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ... Setting fire and death to / whities ass."     But rage is only a part of Baraka's repertoire. A lover, a preacher, a musician, and, above all, a seeker, he doesn't always take his audience where he himself has been, but the journey is always moral, always heartfelt, and frequently--though this might be the least important element to Baraka himself--beautiful.     Baraka's prolific output includes the jazz history Blues People (1963), the essays collected in Home (1966), the nationalist poetry collection Black Art (1966), the plays The Toilet (1964) and The Slave (1964), and The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones (1984). Baraka was born LeRoi Jones in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. This photograph was taken in May 2000 at the Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival in Oakland. Paul Beatty Comic genius Paul Beatty, victor of the 1990 New York Poetry Slam, is the author of Big Bank Take Little Bank (1991), poems that thrive on wit, invention, and invective. "This Side Up" is a powerful indictment of the moral vacuousness and spiritual poverty of America: "on the corner / 138 and st. nick / i caught america with her panties down / peeped under her dress / and saw a cardboard one person shantytown." The poem's persona--an enraged black man who is literally tempted to sexually violate an America which has despised him--reads as an intertextual riff on Gwendolyn Brooks's "love note II: flags" ("I pull you down my foxhole. Do you mind?") and Ralph Ellison's protagonist in Invisible Man , who wants to both caress and destroy the naked blond woman tattooed with an American flag. Beatty's poems also rage madly across the page in Joker, Joker, Deuce (1994), repudiating corporate culture and critiquing the movie Field of Dreams for perpetuating and celebrating a history of baseball that was played out on fields labeled "whites only."     Beatty has retained this acerbic, witty hip-hop/performance poetry approach in his prose, drawing from urban vernacular to tap a comic ultrarealism and reinventing satire and irony to turn accepted "truths" inside out, exposing a clear view of the shoddy stitch work that holds them together. In his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle (1996), Beatty examines the political legacy of the past two decades through the self-described "cool black guy" Gunnar Kaufman, "the number-one son of a spineless colorstruck son of a bitch," schooled during the apex of multicultural education: "During Black History Month, to put a class of toothless urchins in touch with our disparate niggerhoods, Ms. Murphy assigned us to make family trees." Gunnar recounts the story of his great, great uncle, Wolfgang, who--in Beatty's fabulous masculine version of Paule Marshall's "poets in the kitchen"--introduces two white boys to a group of cabbies on their lunch breaks "telling hilarious, if only slightly exaggerated stories of black life in a big city," thus providing the boys with the idea for the "Amos `n' Andy" show. Gunnar's move from the upperclass Santa Monica area to the less privileged and certainly more diverse LA community of Hillside transforms him into a wise-ass, safe-cracking, "punked for life" gang member, basketball star, accomplished poet, father, college student, and political leader--roles that provide Beatty with the opportunity to satirize these diverse arenas of American life.     In Tuff (2000) Winston "Tuffy" Foshay, the 320-pound nihilistic gang member, takes all of center stage. As the novel develops, Tuffy runs for City Council as a way to rail at the system from the fringes (as well as to pocket the $15,000 dangled in front of him to do so): "I ain't saying waste your vote on me, because I ain't the somebody that give a fuck, but you need to vote for somebody."     Paul Beatty has an MFA from Brooklyn College and lives in New York. This photograph was taken at Modern Times Bookstore, in San Francisco, in May 2000. David Bradley Like Ralph Ellison, David Bradley's literary reputation rests upon the achievement of one remarkable novel, The Chaneysville Incident (1981). Narrated by a black historian, John Washington, The Chaneysville Incident is based upon the legend, confirmed by the historical work of Bradley's mother, of thirteen runaway slaves who committed mass suicide in Bedford Country, Pennsylvania, at the point of their imminent recapture. Though the "incident" itself was historically verified, Bradley makes it the basis of a complex, wrenching quest into the center of African American experience through a fictionalization which turns the narrator into the descendent of one of the suicides. The fictionalization itself becomes the word made flesh through the imaginative recreation that turns the lifeless historical notecards compiled by the narrator into a harrowing account of final flight and tragedy.     This passionate and personal excavation allows the black historian to wrest the image of his or her people from white narratives that relegate African Americans to the status of slaves or victims, or--as in the incident at Chaneysville--cast them into oblivion. Rejecting the official narrative allows the black historian (and artist) to write out of a compassionate not-knowing that avoids the falsification of unexamined assumptions. As John Washington reflects: "For any complex issue is surrounded by a maze of questions, most of them obvious, most of them meaningless, and all of them false. A bad historian picks the wrong ones and spends his time researching the useless. A mediocre historian tries to answer them all and spends his time doing background for conclusions that, when stated, will seem hopelessly obvious. A good historian looks at the issues and does ... nothing. He sits and thinks and tries to find the few questions that are significant and central, hoping that one is so much a cornerstone that answering it will answer all the rest."     It was appropriate that The Chaneysville Incident won the 1982 PEN/Faulkner Award, for Bradley reads through Faulkner to re-voice his African American take on the individual mind as shaped by and resistant to community, the freighted complexity of interracial relationships, and the intimate knowledge of a physical landscape in which one is both hunter and quarry.     Bradley is the author of an earlier novel, South Street (1975), which explores the life of a Philadelphia ghetto through a remarkable montage of characters and vernaculars. He was born in 1950 in Bedford, Pennsylvania, and currently lives and writes in La Jolla, California. This photograph was taken in February 1999, in Lynda Koolish's graduate seminar on contemporary African American literature at San Diego State University. Gwendolyn Brooks "In the breath / Of the holocaust he / Is helmsman, hatchet, headlight," Gwendolyn Brooks wrote of Langston Hughes ( In the Mecca, 1968), praising him with an economy of precision and a command of poetic technique that mark both poets' literary careers. Although Brooks later offered an apologia for what she termed "certain little timidities of my own in the late Forties," even her earliest poems were marked by a fierce racial awareness uneclipsed by her final volumes The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986), Winnie (1988), and Gottschalk and the Grande Tarantelle (1988).     With A Street in Bronzeville (1945), Gwendolyn Brooks established herself as a leading voice in American poetry, focusing on the compressed, variegated world of Chicago's South Side. A formidable master of poetic forms--sonnets, ballads, terza rima--Brooks presents the uncertainties of characters who defend themselves against an inner and outer chaos. Long before novelist Toni Morrison created the character Sethe, Gwendolyn Brooks stunned her readers by creating "the mother," a character whom she described in her autobiography ( Report from Part One, 1972) as "a mother not unfamiliar, who decrees that she, rather than her World, will kill her children." This first collection contains some of the greatest American war poems ever written: "Negro Hero" ("I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to save them") and "Gay Chaps at the Bar," a twelve-poem sonnet sequence that confronts readers, via her protagonists' ironic observations, with the emotions of African American soldiers who fought for a country reluctant to respect them as equals. Brooks created understated indictments of the willful myopia of the privileged white Chicagoans whom her working-class black protagonists encounter.     In 1950 Brooks became the first African American to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize, receiving that honor for Annie Allen (1949). The Bean Eaters (1960) contains both the deservedly famous "We Real Cool" and "A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon," still the defining poem on the death of Emmett Till.     After Brooks's 1967 Black Arts conversion, her prosody grew looser, and she gravitated toward a relatively colloquial free verse. "The Boy Died in My Alley" ( Beckonings, 1975) explores violence by focusing on the issue of individual transformation. The literal cause of the death of a black boy, whose blood "ornaments [the poet's] alley," remains unmentioned, a fact encouraging the reader to consider the multiple ways in which young black men in this country mysteriously end up dead: alcohol and drugs, gang warfare, robberies gone awry, police violence, suicide. The poet acknowledges a sorrowful and determined responsibility for the death of the boy and in so doing teaches each of us the tragic consequences of "knowledgeable unknowing," of ever failing to act against oppression and violence. Her tribute to Paul Robeson, clearly applicable to Brooks's own work as well, confirms this powerful sense of commitment, community and love, honoring an art that "Warn[s], in music-words / devout and large / that we are each other's harvest ... / we are each other's magnitude and bond."     Though known chiefly as a poet, Gwendolyn Brooks also wrote the novel Maud Martha (1953). She was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917. She died in 2000. This photograph was taken in San Francisco circa 1980. (Continues...) Excerpted from African American Writers by Lynda Koolish. Copyright © 2001 by University Press of Mississippi. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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