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Chapter 20 - Life in Bronzeville: Humanism and Community in the Work of Gwendolyn Brooks

from Part IV - A City of Neighborhoods: The Great Depression, Sociology, and the Black Chicago Renaissance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2021

Frederik Byrn Køhlert
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

This chapter examines Gwendolyn Brooks’s representation of everyday African American lives in what was at midcentury affectionately known as “Bronzeville.” Her literature elevates the ways these people – especially Black women – found meaning and value in their regular lives, even as they lived in the shadow of a disinterested and segregated city. With a focus on Brooks’s first collection of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, and her novel, Maud Martha, this chapter explores how Brooks’s writing exemplifies humanism and places it in the same populist Chicago tradition of Carl Sandburg, while also maintaining ties to the sociologically informed neighborhood writing of Richard Wright, James T. Farrell, and Nelson Algren. Even though Brooks did not define herself as an African American humanist, she engages with some of its core concepts. Namely, she shows how Black people challenge Christian ideals and how they process death and loss without relying on religious doctrines. Instead, Brooks’s characters look inward and toward their community for aid and redemption.

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Chicago
A Literary History
, pp. 284 - 294
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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