June 7-10, 2018 – Gwendolyn Brooks, Other Writers’ & Poets’ Birthdays
Welcome to the June 7-10 edition of Bidwell Hollow. It’s the birthday of poet Gwendolyn Brooks. This edition also recognizes the birthdays of Saul Bellow, Patricia Cornwell, and Maurice Sendak. Lola Ridge’s “Potpourri” is this edition’s poem. If you have five seconds today, please share Bidwell Hollow with someone you think will enjoy it. Thank you.
Today is the birthday of the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. That’s Gwendolyn Brooks (affiliate link), born on this date in 1917 in Topeka, KS.
Brooks grew up in Chicago. She started writing poetry as a girl and, as a young woman, saw some of her poems published in a Chicago African American newspaper.
“A Street in Bronzeville,” Brooks’s first poetry collection, was published in 1945. The poems focused on African American life in Chicago’s South Side. Brooks’s depiction of the black experience drew praise from critics.
Brooks’s next volume, “Annie Allen,” came out in 1949. Its poems tracked the growing up of an African American girl in Chicago.
It’s for “Annie Allen” that Brooks received the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in Literature.
Brooks followed “Annie Allen” with a novel, “Maud Martha,” in 1953. A third poetry collection, “The Bean Eaters,” arrived in 1960. And her fourth, “Selected Poems,” was published three years later.
Brooks became in 1985 the first black woman to serve as poetry consultant, now called Poet Laureate, to the Library of Congress. And she was named in 1968 as Illinois Poet Laureate, succeeding Carl Sandburg.
Brooks held that position until her death in 2000.
Saul Bellow (affiliate link) was born on June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec. He moved with his parents to Chicago when he was nine.
Bellow is a writer who helped move American fiction beyond an era noted by writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. This new phase in American literature was marked by stories featuring antiheroes and focusing on moral and social anxieties.
And the era was marked by the Jewish American identities of many authors, including Bellow, J. D. Salinger, and Norman Mailer.
Bellow’s first two novels were 1944’s, “Dangling Man” and 1947’s, “The Victim.” Both netted the author praise and a following, but it’s his 1953 novel that elevated Bellow amongst the top writers of his time.
“The Adventures of Augie March” is about a poor Jewish kid growing up in Chicago who defies convention and attempts to settle down. The book netted Bellow his first of three National Book Awards. He also won for his books, “Herzog” and “Mr. Simmler’s Planet.”
In 1976, Bellow received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, “Humboldt’s Gift.” That same year he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In his lecture accepting the Nobel Prize, Bellow said, “It may be more difficult to reach the whirling mind of a modern reader, but it is possible to cut through the noise and reach the quiet zone. In the quiet zone, we may find that he is devoutly waiting for us.”
When she was a child, Patricia Cornwell’s (affiliate link) mother tried to give her away to their next-door neighbors, the evangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth.
Later, in 1983, Ruth was the subject of Cornwell’s first book, “A Time for Remembering.”
Cornwell had by that time worked as a crime reporter. She decided to focus on writing crime fiction.
Though much of Cornwell’s early work was rejected, one editor encouraged her to further develop one of her characters, a medical examiner named Kay Scarpetta.
The first Kay Scarpetta book, “Postmortem,” came out in 1990. Twenty-six Kay Scarpetta books have now been published.
Cornwell was born June 9, 1956, in Miami, FL.
That’s Maurice Sendak (affiliate link), born in 1928 in Brooklyn, NY.
Sendak’s most famous book is 1963’s, “Where the Wild Things Are.” It tells the story of a little boy who, after an argument with his mother, escapes to an island inhabited by giant monsters called Wild Things.
During his life, Sendak received a lot of fan mail. He always tried to write back.
After sending one boy a letter with an illustration, Sendak received a reply from the boy’s mother. She told the author that her son loved the letter so much that he ate it.
“That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received,” Sendak said. “He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
Do you remember
Dripping thick sweet light
Where Canal Street saunters off by herself among quiet trees?
And the faint decayed patchouli—
Fragrance of New Orleans
Like a dead tube rose
Upheld in the warm air…
– Lola Ridge, Public Domain