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Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the major American poets of this century and the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (1950). Yet far less critical attention has focused on her work than on that of her peers. In this comprehensive biocritical study, Melhem—herself a poet and critic—traces the development of Brooks's poetry over four decades, from such early works as A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen, and The Bean Eaters, to the more recent In the Mecca, Riot, and To Disembark. In addition to analyzing the poetic devices used, Melhem examines the biographical, historical, and literary contexts of Brooks's poetry: her upbringing and education, her political involvement in the struggle for civil rights, her efforts on behalf of young black poets, her role as a teacher, and her influence on black letters. Among the many sources examined are such revealing documents as Brooks's correspondence with her editor of twenty years and with other writers and critics. From Melhem's illuminating study emerges a picture of the poet as prophet. Brooks's work, she shows, is consciously charged with the quest for emancipation and leadership, for black unity and pride. At the same time, Brooks is seen as one of the preeminent American poets of this century, influencing both African American letters and American literature generally. This important book is an indispensable guide to the work of a consummate poet.

D. H. Melhem, author of three books of poetry, is a member of the faculty at the New School for Social Research and is adjunct professor of The Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities.

Melhem is delightfully militant about becoming the critic needed for a poet who 'is our multiethnic, multiracial American artistic heritage.' We require such critics as we need such poets; Melhem's work points Americanist literary scholarship in a direction it must go. -- American Literature

The first comprehensive study of the poet. -- Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Melhem, in authenticating Brooks as a 'major' poet, achieves indeed a resource needed now. -- Choice

Thanks for pulling me into History. . . . Bravo! -- Gwendolyn Brooks

A highly needed examination of themes and techniques of all of Brook's works. . . . A valuable contribution to the Brooks scholarship. -- Journal of Modern Literature

Will help bring Brooks the wide attention and appreciation that she has earned. Highly recommended. -- Library Journal

Timely, enjoyable, and useful. . . . Finely arranged and executed. -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Gwendolyn Brooks, American poets, African Americans in literature

Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice
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