Thursday, July 14, 2011

"We Real Cool" & "For My People" First Appeared in Poetry Mag.

I made some cool "discoveries" while looking through back issues of Poetry recently. Early Langston Hughes poems. Sterling Brown. Margaret Walker. Gwendolyn Brooks.

I was fascinated to learn that Walker's "For My People" and Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool" were first published in the periodical. Apparently, Poetry was an important site of publication for these black poets, at least, at different stages of their careers.

Margaret Walker was 22 years old when her poem "For My People" was first published in the November 1937 issue of Poetry magazine. Five years later, Walker received the Yale Younger Poets award, and her book For My People was published. Her title poem "For My People" became one of the most anthologized African American poems of all time.   

Gwendolyn Brooks published her first poems in Poetry in November 1944. She published a couple more in 1949 in the periodical, and she won  the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950.

In the September 1959 issue of Poetry, she published a few poems, including "We Real Cool." Over the next ten or so years, the poem was repeatedly reprinted in anthologies and became one of the most popular black poems.    

Brooks's poem and Walker's were two among many accomplishments during their careers. Still, in retrospect, the appearance of "We Real Cool" and "For My People" in Poetry was an important moment in African American publishing history. At the time the poems were published, the venue Poetry gave the poems and poets more visibility, and the increasing significance of the poets over the years, in turn, added to the periodical's historical importance or cultural capital.

Related Content:
Langston Hughes in Poetry
The Journey of Margaret Walker's "For My People"
20 Poems (with Audio) by Black Poets on the Poetry Foundation Site
Calvin Forbes Shines Some light on Raccoon in Poetry
Pleasant Surprises: Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikki Giovanni & Poetry
Poetry as Passport: Getting to Other Worlds through Translations

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