A Chicago Upbringing
Carolyn M. Rodgers was born in Chicago in 1945, the youngest child of Clarence Rodgers and Bazella Rodgers, natives of Little Rock, Arkansas. Rodgers was reared near Forty-seventh Street in Chicago, an area that was home to many popular blues singers. As a child she was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her poem “Portrait” speaks personally: “mama . . . / saved pennies/ fuh four babies/ college educashuns.” In “I Have Been Hungry,” she confides, “my father never wanted three girls/ and only one son.” An avid reader, young Carolyn took dramatic elocution lessons, memorizing and reciting works by such black poets as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes. At nine, Rodgers started keeping a journal, and in her teens she began writing poems. After high school, Rodgers sang and played the guitar in coffeehouses and even contemplated a singing career. “But,” she says, “the night life scared me away from singing professionally.”
After she graduated from Hyde Park High School, Rodgers attended the University of Illinois at Urbana, where her first published poems appeared in a literary magazine, and then finished all but one course in the bachelor’s degree program at Roosevelt University. (In the 1980’s, she completed her bachelor’s degree and also earned a master’s degree in English at the University of Chicago.) During her Roosevelt University years, Rodgers met Gwendolyn Brooks, who proved to be a supportive...
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