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Lions Roar : March 2009
About a Poem: Evelyn C. White on Gwendolyn Brooks’ Untitled Poem in Annie Allen. THROUGHOUT THE DECADE I spent researching and writing a biography of Alice Walker, I routinely corrected a common misstatement about her literary career, an inaccuracy that continues to find voice, even among self-proclaimed Walker devotees who declare themselves passionate propo- nents of her work. The recipient of numerous awards for her art and activism, Walker is not, as has often been stated, the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. The landmark achievement be- longs to poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) who, with her 1949 volume Annie Allen, became the first African-American to win the prestigious award, in any category. In so do- ing, the humble writer who’d once toiled as a maid, bested, that year, luminaries such as Robert Frost and William Carlos Williams. Inspired, in part, by Homer’s Iliad, the soaring col- lection details the life of a black female wrestling with issues of love, death, war, beauty, racism, and self- worth as she comes of age, as did Brooks herself, in a black enclave in Chicago. A strong believer in Buddhist principles, if not an everyday practitioner, I find great wisdom in this un- titled poem from “The Womanhood” section of Annie Allen. The elegant and spare lines direct us to cherish the gifts that abound when we are mindful and open to all that the universe delivers. I’ve used the poem as a centering touchstone when feeling rushed, worried, or ill at ease with the rhythm of my life. The words always evoke in me a calming sense of peace. About Walker, whose 1982 novel The Color Purple garnered the first Pulitzer Prize in fiction awarded to a black woman, Brooks later said: “I was grateful for her company.” ♦ Gwendolyn Brooks photobyandykarr Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies. And be it gash or gold it will not come Again in this identical disguise. 104 SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2009