Gwendolyn Brooks is known as a great poet. Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1968 until her death in 2000, she won the Pulitzer Prize for “Annie Allen” in 1950. She was the first African-American to win the prize and continued to collect accolades for her poetry until she died.
But it was not until Haki R. Madhubuti —founder and editor of Third World Press, distinguished professor at Chicago State University and founder and directoremeritus of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center and the university and a person who has devoted much of his career to championing Brooks’ work — pressed Maud Martha upon me a few weeks ago did I understand that her talent extended to the novel.
When the novel was published in 1953, Fanny Butcher, the Tribune’s literary editor, praised in her review headlined, “Swift, sharp prose by a poet.” Since then, though, Brooks’ venture into the long form has eluded significant public attention despite Madhubuti’s valiant efforts. He keeps the novel in print but, as he acknowledges, “Most people see her as a poet, not beyond that.”