Gwendolyn Brooks and August Wilson -- #blacklivesmatter

Disclosure: I was sent digital copies of these books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

This week for our Black Lives Matter Series, I am going to share two people who are not on my list but who I found some relatively new picture books about. Last week I shared Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first trained black woman. Today I am sharing books about Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black person to win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and August Wilson, a black playwright who won two Pulitzer Prizes and a Tony Award. 

Gwendolyn Brooks

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Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas. Her family moved to Chicago when Gwendolyn was young. Her father was a janitor and her mother was a schoolteacher and pianist. By the age of 13 Gwendolyn's first poem, "Eventide," was published in American Childhood. By the age of 17 her poems were frequently published in the Chicago Defender. She attended junior college and worked for the NAACP. Then in 1945 her first collection of poems was published, A Street in Bronzeville. In 1949, her second collection, Annie Allen, was published and won the Pulitzer Prize. (Source: Poetry Foundation. "Gwendolyn Brooks."
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Gwendolyn's poems are described to be about real life topics like love, family, inequality, poverty, war, and loneliness. Her later poems took on the political and activism from current events. She even wrote a poetry book for kids Bronzeville Boys and Girls.  She won many prizes in her life and also was the first black woman to hold the post of poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. (This post is now called the Poet Laurete.) She died in 2000 in Chicago. (Source: Poetry Foundation. "Gwendolyn Brooks." I love that I get to share with you a picture book about Gwendolyn Brooks so you can teach younger kids about this amazing poet.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera shares the start of Gwendolyn's poetry career. Gwendolyn's family did not have extra money but they did have a collection of poetry books which her father read from each night. Gwendolyn fell in love with the poems. She often memorized them. Then she began to string together her own words and scribbled her own poems. The book shares her desire to write the poems and how she writes about what she sees, hears and experiences. It describes her hardships including writing with no power. And it describes her happiness when she finds out about winning the Pulitzer Prize. It takes you from her childhood to adulthood.

This book is recommended for grades 1 through 4. It is well written and easy for this age group to understand. It can easily be read to a younger age group as well. The illustrations are beautifully done and the story is told in a child-friendly manner. Reading this book made me want to learn more and go read her poems. At the end of the book there is a page with information about Gwendolyn Brooks's career and poems. You can check out a trailer of the book here

August Wilson

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August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel, Jr. on April 27, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a German baker who was not around much. His mother was Daisy Wilson. She cleaned homes for a living. He was the fourth of six children. His mother mostly raised the children alone. They lived in a two bedroom apartment above a grocery store on Bedford Avenue. 
Photo by HeyYallYo at English Wikipedia / Public domain
He and his siblings struggled growing up biracial. In the 1950s his mother divorced their father and married David Bedford. They moved from their apartment in the Hill District to a predominantly white neighborhood called Hazelwood. There they were greeted with much racial hostility including bricks thrown through the windows. They moved onto their next home. In 1959 he was one of fourteen black students at Central Catholic High School. He dropped out of there. He attended Connelley Vocational High School but found the work was not challenging and left. He tried the public high school, Gladstone High School, but dropped out after a teacher accused him of plagiarizing his paper on Napolean I of France. He hid the decision to drop out from his mother and did menial jobs and went to the library. There he discovered the books of black authors and poets. 

His mother wanted him to become a lawyer but he knew he wanted to be a writer. His mother forced him to leave the family home and he joined the army but only lasted there for one year. Then he went back to odd jobs. He changed his name in 1965 after his father's death. He began writing in bars, coffee shops and cigar shops. In 1968 he cofounded the Black Horizon Theater with one of his friends. He volunteered to be the director and went to the library to find books on how to direct.  In 1969 he married Brenda Burton and converted to Islam. They had a daughter and divorced in 1972. In 1978 he moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. He got a job writing educational skits at the Science Museum of Minnesota. He quit that job in 1981. He worked as a cook and continued to write plays. His play Fences won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, and his play The Piano Lesson also won a Pulitzer Prize. The mayor of St. Paul, George Latimer, in 1987 declared May 27th as August Wilson Day since August Wilson was the only resident of Minnesota to win a Pulitzer Prize.  His plays were performed on Broadway as well in theaters across the country. His play Fences was turned into a movie. Wilson insisted that the director be black to get the full story across to the audience. It remained undone until 2016 when Denzel Washington directed it. This got August Wilson a posthumous Oscar nomination. 

Our book about the life of August Wilson is Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Cannaday Chapman. This book shares the story of August Wilson with a focus on his childhood to becoming a playwright. It shares that at first he wrote poetry. It was his friends that encouraged him to write plays. It emphasizes the importance of knowing how to read and of the books he read and how that all played a role in his life. Although the details are not all there the story of his struggles as well as his activism is definitely in this story but it is presented in a way that is appropriate for the age group. 

This book is recommended for grades 1 to 4. There are more words to a page in this book, but it seems to really share more of his story and writing style. The illustrations are powerful and add even more to the story. Abrams Books offers a teacher's guide to go with this book as well. 

I feel it is so important for our kids to learn about poets and authors. I love that these picture books share these two black people with younger kids so they can grow up knowing about their work and reading it. I hope you will check out these two books and add them to your library either at home or in the classroom!