Poets & Writers

Anatomy of a Pulitzer Prize Letter

hen Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in May 1950 for her second volume, Annie Allen, she was a thirty-two-year-old mother and wife living in Chicago. The lights at 9134 Wentworth Avenue were off because of an unpaid electric bill. As her house was darkening with the approach of dusk, a reporter from the Sun-Times called to inform her she had won the esteemed award and that it would be publicly announced the following day.In disbelief, as any recipient would be, she screamed and danced in her living room with her nine-year-old son, Henry, then celebrated by going to the movies. W

When the press arrived the next morning, she worried excessively about the success of the photo shoot and interview, for she had not told anyone her home was without power. But then something inexplicable occurred: When the photographers plugged their lamps into the wall outlets, they surprisingly emitted light. Years later, when Brooks was nearly seventy years old and recalling this story at the Library of Congress during an interview with Alan Jabbour and E. Ethelbert Miller, she marveled still at the miracle. Most stunning was the fact that she never learned who had thrown the switch so that she’d have electricity on one of the most important days in her life.

For a long while, in the eyes of readers, literary gatekeepers were like that man or woman who restored Gwendolyn Brooks’s power. They loomed in the margins, confidently dispensing awards and consecrating careers on the basis of their presumed ability to objectively assess the best works written in a given year. Before the “enlightened” period we live in now, of sunshine laws and of announcing judges in advance, the custom of anonymously conferring a prize gave the false impression that literary excellence was owed to the innate talents of the winning writer alone, just as the table of contents of your favorite college literature textbook presented the illusion of an official canon. In reality, the system of prizes and awards, even during Brooks’s time, was as much a reflection of cultural networks (including friendships), personal tastes, aesthetic alliances, and— not surprisingly—even political agendas. This is nowhere more evident than in the details behind the Pulitzer Prize jury letter that announced Annie Allen the best book of poems published in 1949.

In 1950, the Pulitzer jury in poetry was composed of poet, critic,. In the letter that declared their selection of , the three men unintentionally produced a document of historic proportions. Its existence raises all sorts of questions about literary culture, personal beliefs about art, and racial politics. This is not to take away from the extraordinary accomplishment of Brooks’s first two books, and , which are cited in the letter, but for those of us familiar with the practice of institutional racism and nascent white supremacy in the arts, Brooks’s Pulitzer Prize has long been something of a historical anomaly, one that arouses curiosity about the progressive and cultural forces at that time that led to her winning the prize. In the history of the award, a handful of African American poets had been passingly considered (among them Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Margaret Walker, Dudley Randall, Haki Madhubuti, and Lucille Clifton), but following Brooks, it took another twenty-eight years before a black author would win the award again (recently departed novelist James Alan McPherson, for ), and thirty-seven years before another black poet would earn the recognition in the category of poetry (Rita Dove, for ).

Anda sedang membaca pratinjau, daftarlah untuk membaca selengkapnya.

Minat Terkait

Lainnya dari Poets & Writers

Poets & Writers11 mnt membaca
Leave the Expectations Behind
Rumaan Alam knows what many readers expect him to write. He is not immune to the expectation all writers of color face—that we will mine our identities to produce a kind of autofiction that will be praised for reflecting Black life or Latinx life or,
Poets & Writers1 mnt membaca
Poets & Writers Magazine
POETS & WRITERS MAGAZINE Volume 48 • Issue 6 Editor in Chief KEVIN LARIMER Senior Editor DANA ISOKAWA Managing Editor ARIEL DAVIS Associate Editor EMMA KOMLOS-HROBSKY Assistant Editor SPENCER QUONG Art Director MURRAY GREENFIELD Copy Editor ANTOINE D
Poets & Writers2 mnt membaca
The Office of Historical Corrections
The vision for the Institute of Public History that summoned me from my former job as a history professor at GW had been grandiose. An ambitious freshman congresswoman demanded funding to put a public historian in every zip code in the country, a cor