By Roxanne Timan, Managing Editor
Follow her at @Roxlobster
Gwendolyn Brooks fell in love with her own color.
Angela Jackson fell in love with her poetry.
“My most serious endeavors as an African American writer were creating literature that was written to, for, and from black people,” said Angela Jackson, during her Genevieve Staudt Intercultural Lecture, on March 14 in Founder’s Lounge.
The journey of once-impoverished Chicago south-side writer Gwendolyn Brooks, is told by friend and protege, Jackson, in her book, ‘A surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks.’
Jackson, award winning poet and writer, along with her own background with Brooks, made her a prime target for a biography on the first African American Pulitzer Prize winner.
In an interview with the Leader, Jackson explains, “Rakia Clark called me in March of 2016 and asked me to do a book because her centennial anniversary of her birth was about to be celebrated in 2017.”
Within the year, Jackson procured the biography before going on tour nationwide to spread the legacy of the ‘We Real Cool’ poet.
Excerpts of the biography, which Jackson referenced often in the lecture, looks deep into the life of Brooks, but fails to mention a part of her resume - her short time at Elmhurst College.
During the question and answer part of the lecture, English department head and professor Dr. Anne Frank-Wake brought attention to Brook’s short career at EC. She served as a creative writing professor amidst racial inequality in the Elmhurst area in the late 1960s.
“I think it’s important to the history of Elmhurst College to remember the great people who walked our halls and shared their insights,” says Frank Wake, who met Brooks many times during her visits on campus. Brooks, who was the first black professor to be hired by Elmhurst College, left after only one semester.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding her residence at the college was the racial perception put upon her because of her race. The African-American scholar and award-winner made the trip from downtown Chicago to Elmhurst through train daily to teach, which came with obstacles. In an interview with The Leader, Frank-Wake makes note of the situations surrounding Brooks’ time as a professor.
“One of our long-time faculty members, Prof. Bill Barclay, would give her a late afternoon ride to the train after she had taught. Here’s what’s shocking to think about, though,” says Frank-Wake. “at that time some of the wealthy Elmhurst residents still had domestic help - “maids” - and Bill said that on several occasions Brooks was taken for his ‘domestic’ while being dropped off. I guess she took it in stride, what could she do? Yet Bill Barclay kept telling that story.”
Though her departure from the college was not positive, Frank-Wake emphasizes the importance of these stories to our campus.
“We must never forget or assume that we can ever know the daily realities and stresses of Black and Brown people, Pulitzer or not.” says the English department chair, expanding on the timeline of the award-winning Chicagoan and African-American literary pioneer.