The Sturdy Years

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Her first two books of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville and Annie Allen, and others written in the 1950’s and 1960’s appear to conform to tradition in their use of the sonnet form and of slant rhyme. There is, however, nothing traditional about one 1945 sonnet’s subject: abortion. In many ways, A Street in Bronzeville is untraditional, innovative, and courageous, although written with a sturdy respect for tradition. Annie Allen, for which Brooks was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in poetry—the first awarded to an African American—uses narrative verse to trace the growth of a semiautobiographical character from girlhood to womanhood. Brooks drew upon personal experiences and social issues as subjects for many early poems. In 1960, she published The Bean Eaters, a collection containing two well-known poems: “We Real Cool,” about seven pool players at the Golden Shovel, and “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” written after the 1957 murder of Emmett Till. Her early career also includes publication of Bronzeville Girls and Boys (1956), a children’s book, and Selected Poems.