“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
When I hear this quote, I think of Gwendolyn Brooks. I attended a talk she gave at Loyola Chicago when I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s. I don’t remember what she said, but I felt so full of hope and possibility, so strong in a deeply authentic way. That was over twenty years ago and every time I see her name in print or hear her name mentioned, I still feel that glow inside. This is not hyperbole.
I was back in Chicago last week for a quick trip to attend a family wedding. One of the excursions I was hoping to make while there was to visit the new Gwendolyn Brooks statue which was unveiled on June 7, 2018, on what would have been her 101st birthday.
My Mom and I spent the Monday after the wedding bumming around. Here’s a list of the places we hit that day, some of which I’ll write about next week: The Pritzker Military Museum & Library, The Berghoff restaurant, The American Writer’s Museum, and The River Walk.
We ended the day with a visit to Ms. Brooks on the South Side.
I love that Brooks is depicted wearing glasses. The facial expression is amazing — she looks strong, yet kind. Serious, yet ready to break out in a smile. And that hand. It’s so tender, so human. The statue is the work of Margot McMahon. Visit McMahon’s website here to see photos of the statue’s creation and of the dedication ceremony.
This is believed to be the second statue commemorating an African American woman in Chicago. The other was erected last year and honors Georgiana Rose Simpson, the first black women to earn a doctorate at the University of Chicago.
Some of Brooks’ honors and achievements listed on the base of the statue. Brooks was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for literary achievement.
In this shot, you can see part of the stepping stone path and the deck, or porch, behind the statue which is part of the memorial. People can leave notes to Brooks or poems of their own on the porch. Look closely and you can see a few.
I imagine local teachers will be able to schedule field trips to the park for kids to learn about Brooks and perhaps leave a poem of their own.
A close-up of one of the stepping stones which feature lines from Brooks’ writings.
Grant me that I am human, that I hurt,
That I can cry.
To learn more about this memorial and Brooks, this article from the Chicago Tribune is a great place to start.
Brooks is primarily known for her poetry. She wrote one novel, Maud Martha (1953). The Chicago Review of Books is coming out with a new edition this fall.