Legendary Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks was “not a cryer,” according to the late writer’s daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely, who said she only saw her tear up three times in her life.
“This, I believe, would have been the fourth time,” Blakely said, unveiling a bronze bust Thursday evening at the poet’s namesake park at 46th Street and Greenwood.
On what would’ve been Brooks’ 101st birthday, she became the first black, Chicago-based poet honored with a statue and memorial in a city park.
It’s the latest “first” bestowed upon Brooks, who brought international acclaim to the South Side for decades as one of the nation’s greatest poetic minds.
Dedicated as “The Oracle of Bronzeville,” stone steps with inscriptions of Brooks’ Pulitzer-winning “Annie Allen” lead the way from the statue to a wooden porch, where viewers are invited to write and share their own poetry.
“The back porch was her first writing space, a quiet place to read and write and imagine,” Chicago sculptor Margot McMahon said. “I wanted to sculpt her humanism that encouraged us to be all we could be.”
Born in Topeka, Kansas, Brooks’ family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and she grew up in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood where her home is now a Chicago landmark.
Brooks’ 1945 poetry collection “A Street in Bronzeville” brought her critical acclaim, but four years later, “Annie Allen” made her the first black person to win a Pulitzer Prize.
She later became the first black woman to be the poet laureate of Illinois — a position she held from 1968 until her death in 2000 — as well as the first to serve as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.
“There is no writer in the history of Chicago who is a better example of what we as Chicagoans and as artists set out to do,” Chicago Literary Hall of Fame founder Don Evans said.
Beyond those accolades, Brooks also taught extensively. She held posts at the University of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Chicago State University, Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin, among others — besides the inspiration she doled out for years to thousands of young Chicago students through her annual poetry competition.
“Her religion was kindness,” poet and longtime friend Haki Madhubuti said.
Noting that many of her mother’s lines “could fit on posters to get you through the day,” Blakely quoted Brooks’ 1991 “Speech to the Young.”
“Even if you are not ready for day, it cannot always be night.”