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Poetry symposium honors Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks

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On Monday, Oct. 2, a poetry symposium was held in the DePaul Theatre School atrium honoring the 100th birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Angela Jackson, Brooks’ biographer, appeared as a guest speaker for the event that was hosted by the Center for Black Diaspora.

The event started with an introduction and was kicked off by political science professor Christina Rivers. She provided the audience with a warm welcome and announcements of courses for the upcoming quarter. She then introduced the audience to Dexter Zollicoffer, one of the creators of the event and the diversity advisor for the Theatre School. 

Angela Jackson reads excerpts from her biography of Brooks. Brooks’ depictions of urban black life led her to be the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.
(Benjamin Conboy/ The DePaulia)

When asked about the reasoning behind the creation of this event, Zollicoffer said “The center knew they wanted to honor Gwendolyn Brooks, she is a local artist and we are honoring our own.”

Once Zollicoffer gave his remarks regarding the purpose of the event, he introduced Francesca Royster, an English professor at DePaul. Royster took the audience on an insightful and meaningful journey when she spoke about Brooks and the impact of the poet’s work on her childhood and her views on life as a black woman. She connected the audience using relatable tales of her childhood along with how exactly Brooks made her think and feel.

After Royster was seated, Jackson walked to the front of the atrium. The author intrigued the audience with excerpts from her biography about Brooks. She went on about the poet’s early life, the work she did as an activist and how greatly her words impacted other writers.

This conversation led to performances of Brooks’ work by the Depaul Theatre School Alumnae with Master of Fine Arts Degree in acting. Abie Irabor and Shadana Patterson, both DePaul trained actresses recited Brooks’ works. Irabor read aloud a few chapters from “Maud Martha,” Brooks’ only novel. Patterson read few poems from “Annie Allen” and “A Street in Bronzeville,” two of Brooks’ many poetry books. The women recited Brooks’ words as if they were their very own, evoking emotions of humor and strength.

Jackson returned to the center of the room and participated in a Q&A session with the audience. It was evident that members of the audience absorbed a lot of information about Brooks due to the insightful questions that were being asked.

Irabor mentioned that the better the writing is, the easier it is to act out.

“I read through it and she painted the picture for me,” Patterson said. “Her words have become my memory.”

Most of the questions from audience members were directed at Jackson. Before she answered each question, the author took a long pause, making sure that her responses were sound and thoughtful.

Jackson recalls Brooks as her mentor.

“We met at the OBAC (Organization of Black American Culture) Writers Workshop, if not before, around 1970,” she says. She continued to speak about Brooks’ about how exactly her work inspired many poets in the 1960s, 1970s and even contemporary poets.

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Poetry symposium honors Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks