Author Suzanne Slade has penned numerous picture book biographies about visionary women (A Computer Called Katherine and Dangerous Jane). In Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, she turns her attention to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Though Brooks grew up in poverty, her family’s home was lined with shelves that held books of poetry, a “great treasure.” They valued the written word, and writing “became like eating and breathing” for the young Brooks. She wrote her first poem at the age of 7 and was published in a magazine by the time she was 11.
Slade explores the impact of the Great Depression on Brooks’ family, as well as her misfit status at school. Through it all, her poems kept flowing. During college, marriage and motherhood, money was always tight, but Brooks continued writing and dreaming of a better future. Finally, Brooks secured publication for a collection of poetry.
Slade writes that Brooks’ words “helped people better understand others,” likening them to “bright, brilliant clouds.” Illustrator Cozbi A. Cabrera incorporates warm, luminous clouds repeatedly throughout the book. The final spread shows the exuberant moment in which Brooks learns that she has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Cabrera depicts Brooks dancing for joy with her son in their home on the South Side of Chicago, their living room window framing a brilliant sunset and wispy blue clouds.
Exquisite quotes frequently from Brooks and her work, a smart choice by Slade that allows readers to experience for themselves the poet’s extraordinary voice. This vibrant portrait is a fitting introduction to a groundbreaking poet.