Mr. President, I am honored to present Gwendolyn Brooks, renowned American poet.
Poised at a remarkable juncture in time, when Blacks and women began to impress themselves on this nation’s political conscience, Gwendolyn Brooks was willing and talented enough to give voice to a Black consciousness, to, as she modestly puts it in her Report From Part One, “(have) some hand in … spreading (the) new spirit.” She continues in that book to say, “I saw how proud and how strong blacks were becoming. Their confidence in themselves was inspiring.” Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, in turn, has inspired countless audiences, as recognized not only by her readers, but also by the many and varied distinguished literary honors bestowed upon her, such as her becoming Poet Laureate of Illinois, a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Trained in a literary tradition that had no nourishing black female role models, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted a voice and became that role model, using echoes of the traditional to
proclaim her Chicago, the city that served as material and forge since her second month of life. That resonant voice has found expression in over fifteen books which capture the multifarious nuances of the Black heritage, as described in her Primer for Blacks:
stretches over the land
the Black of it,
the rust-red of it,
the milk and cream of it,
the tan and yellow-tan of it,
the deep-brown middle-brown high-brown of it,
the “olive” and ochre of it —
Gwendolyn Brooks, we honor you here today not only for that poetically rich and socially relevant voice, but also because you too share our commitment to learning. Helping young writers to find themselves, you have taught at various universities, led writing workshops on Chicago’s South Side, and sponsored writing contests in elementary schools. Indeed, Clark will experience that side of you soon, when you and two authors return to Clark to become the focus of a Women’s Studies-sponsored course this autumn. In your work, it is clear that poetry, learning, and teaching are symbiotic imperatives. And as a result, those who learn from you might especially cherish the last lines of your fourth sonnet from “Womanhood,” “… first … civilize a space/ Wherein to play your violin with grace.”
It is for these reasons, Mr. President, and on behalf of the trustees, faculty, students, and staff of Clark University that I request the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, be conferred upon her.