So Beautiful It Hurts

In which I direct my readers to a departed talent

Gwendolyn Brooks, poet and relentless voice, left us twenty years ago today. For those unfamiliar with her name on sight, she was the mastermind behind the oft-misread “We Real Cool,”

She was also:

The first Black writer (of any discipline) to win a Pulitzer Prize

A poet whose publishing legacy began at age thirteen

An industry figure who promoted and patronized Black-owned presses and businesses—even leaving her big-name publisher for one in the 1970s

An inhabitant of both deeply personal and deeply political themes

A generous public-reading giver, translating her own words into eloquent speech

A writer very much concerned with colorism (within the broad spectrum of racism)

A literary celebrity of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s—decades with pretty drastic differences if you ask me, or better yet anyone who was actually there

A master of the line break and of subtle, half-buried rhyme

A champion of the Illinois Poets Laureate Awards and Significant Illinois Poets Awards

Re: the above, basically synonymous with the city of Chicago

Readings I recommend:

The “Anniad” (and all of Annie Allen)

“Cynthia in the Snow”

Maud Martha

“kitchenette building”

“Gay Chaps at the Bar” and “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…”

“Strong Men, Riding Horses”

“To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals”

“the mother”

Remember her today. Read her starting today. I promise, once you’ve started you’ll find it hard to stop.

Dedicated to Susan Gilmore, through whose eyes I first appreciated Brooks.

Image: from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Published by Cecilia Gigliotti

Cecilia Gigliotti (she/her) lives in Berlin with a beloved ukulele named Uke Skywalker. She co-hosts and produces the music commentary podcast POD SOUNDS. Her free time goes toward dancing, reading books new and old, drawing cartoons, taking city walks, and devoting too much thought to the foibles of her heroes. Connect with her on Instagram (@c_m_giglio, @ceciliagphotography, @pod_sounds_podcast) and see what else she's up to (

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