In 2013, the University Library acquired the extensive literary manuscripts and archives of Poet and Writer Gwendolyn Brooks—no easy task given the value and size of the collection. Other universities and libraries had been vying to procure the papers of the third Illinois Poet Laureate, the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, and the first African American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize. These important papers ultimately landed at Illinois, and the financial support of Library Friends was vital in making it happen.
Brooks’s papers, now housed in the University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), span more than six decades and include some of her earliest surviving poetry and prose, as well as early scrapbooks, correspondence, manuscripts, and informal jottings, annotations, and observations. They are described by RBML Director Valerie Hotchkiss as a “treasure trove for researchers.”
“We collect authors’ archives in order to document and preserve the creative process,” said Hotchkiss. “To have the papers of Gwendolyn Brooks, a compelling voice in American poetry, will help us better understand her poetry, its influences, and the times in which she lived. It will be thrilling for students to see the author’s hand and to get insight into her creativity through her papers.”
Gifts to the Library, no matter the size, are imperative to building a collection that will sustain one of the preeminent research libraries in the country. Having acquired the Gwendolyn Brooks archives, the Library at Illinois is able to offer a wealth of material that can be tapped for teaching within the University’s curriculum—and beyond.