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Matter in the Margins: Gwendolyn Brooks at 100

This exhibition showcases the literary archives of Gwendolyn E. Brooks (19172000), Illinois Poet Laureate and the first black winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Brooks’s papers include youthful poetry and prose, scrapbooks of pieces she published as a young woman, extensive correspondence with a significant roster of other writers, and manuscript drafts and proofs, especially after she left mainstream commercial publishing to produce her works with black-owned presses.

Gwendolyn Brooks was an inveterate note-taker and self-chronicler, and the collection is filled with Post-Its, hotel stationery, and other scraps of paper on which she recorded her daily life and current events. She sketched out future plans and recorded meaningful memories in the flyleaves of notebooks and on the backs of photographs, and she interrogated others’ ideas and narratives in the margins of letters she received and books she read. Through these marginal jottings, Brooks destabilized the idea of finality: their presence transforms seemingly finished, self-contained documents into ongoing conversations and works in progress. This exhibition highlights the ways in which Brooks’ annotations bring attention to the margin as a space that matters. Here, the poet worked out the process of becoming, raising important questions about completion, authority, self-fashioning, and memory.

Curated by Anna Chen

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