Medgar Evers College Hosts Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Celebration
The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY on Saturday, March 25 hosted the 2017 National Black Writers Conference Biennial Symposium, "Our Miss Brooks: A Centennial Celebration." It was a tribute and scholarly appraisal of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black writer to win the Pulitzer and a towering literary figure.
The author of more than 25 published works, including the collections Annie Allen and The Bean Eaters, and the novel Maud Martha, Brooks took on political issues through her powerful, socially and politically conscious poetry and prose. She provided a window into the life of Blacks in 20th-century urban America.
The celebration on Saturday was one of several such tributes throughout the country in recent months to mark the centennial. The daylong event in Founders Auditorium included reflections on Brooks’ life, a discussion of the impact and significance of her works, and dramatic presentations derived from or inspired by her work. Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti, author, poet, and publisher of Third World Press, served as the keynote speaker. He shared fond memories of Brooks, who was a cultural mother, friend and mentor to him. Poets and educators Cheryl Clarke, Angela Jackson, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Marilyn Nelson, and Nicole Sealey were also featured in various forms on Saturday.
The program also included a presentation of scholars’ papers coordinated by the College Language Association’s Black Studies Committee, intergenerational poetry and dramatic readings from Brooks works, and a performance featuring an original composition and poetry inspired by Brooks’ works.
For President Crew, Gwendolyn Brooks “encapsulates truth. She wrote about ordinary things; she wrote about ordinary people,” he said in comments on Saturday.
“Brooks is constantly playing with us, pushing us as readers. She invites us to challenge how we come to value certain lives over others," said Eve Dunbar, Associate Professor of English at Vassar College. Dunbar, along with the other presenters, Jennifer Williams, Assistant Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at Morgan State University, and Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the MFA program at University of Massachusetts Boston, held the works of Miss Brooks as a mirror to society. She questioned the way in which black people, specifically women, have been viewed in the context of American history and the possible modes of recontextualizing this view as time progresses.
Dr. Haki R. Madhubuti built upon that sentiment. He compared his time spent with Brooks to today, stating that “The conditions that essentially occupied our lives then, as Black Lives Matter tells us, still occupy our lives now." To provide some insight on how to overcome those conditions, he stressed that young people begin by knowing and investing in themselves, loving themselves and loving their people, a lesson he accredits to Brooks.
Creating a space for this exploration of self and culture, as President Crew stated, “is what Medgar Evers college is doing today; this is what Gwendolyn Brooks has done before." In the spirit of Miss Brooks, Medgar Evers College has “nested itself historically in the right place around the right issues for our people," Dr. Crew said.