Gwendolyn Brooks: A Poet’s Work In Community

January 28 through June 5, 2022
Book cover of seated figure wearing a yellow dress withb hand-written text saying to Gwen with Love.

This exhibition celebrates the life and work of American poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000). Though Brooks is generally well-known for her poetry, few recognize her expansive social and political impact. The first Black author to win a Pulitzer Prize in any category, Brooks led a decades-long career marked by her engagement with struggles for racial justice. Her early writings centered around the people she grew up with and observed on the streets of Bronzeville, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Chicago. As her connections to this community grew in tandem with the international struggles against anti-Black racism, so did the scope of her poetry and her influence. This back-and-forth between poet and community opened up surprising spaces for learning, empowerment, and institution building.

Comprising more than forty manuscripts, broadsides, and first editions, A Poet's Work In Community explores Brooks’s roles as a poet, teacher, mentor, and community leader. It traces the effect of the resulting relationships on her work and the work of other creatives, such as Dudley Randall, Sonia Sanchez, and Jeff Donaldson. The exhibition tells the story of Brooks as a young poet through her early published poetry, establishes her relationship with the Black arts and publishing communities of the 1960s and ’70s, and illuminates her contributions as a mentor to future writers through her children’s books and self-published guides for young poets. A Poet's Work In Community comes at an important time in our collective history, giving us a blueprint for building community as an essential part of creative growth.

Gwendolyn Brooks: A Poet's Work In Community is made possible by Katharine J. Rayner, with generous support from the Caroline Morgan Macomber Fund.

Jeff Donaldson (1932–2004), To Gwen with Love. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc, 1971. The Estate of Jeff Donaldson, courtesy of Kravets Wehby Gallery, New York