We Real Cool Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 11-page guide for the poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes themes like The Recklessness of Youth and The Precariousness of Life.
Gwendolyn Brooks stands among the foremost American poets of the 20th century. A master of poetic form and portraiture, she explored black life in Chicago, where she lived for the majority of her life. The poem “We Real Cool,” Brooks’s most famous work, appeared in her 1960 collection The Bean Eaters.
As a fledgling writer, Brooks combined early influences from the literary era of modernism, defined by poets like Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein, with her mastery of traditional forms like the sonnet. Brooks’s style and content transformed when the poet came under the influence of the Black Arts movement in Chicago, which included poets Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, Lorraine Hansberry, and Brooks’s friend, the writer Haki R. Madhubuti. An offshoot of the Black Power movement, the Black Arts movement encouraged black artists to celebrate and advocate for their racial identity, which Brooks increasingly did in verse and in life.
“We Real Cool” became Brooks’s magnum opus; it was a favorite among English classrooms and at the poet’s public readings. The poem, inspired by a group of young men Brooks once saw at a pool hall in her Chicago neighborhood, memorializes itself in readers’ minds for its snappy rhythm, expert rhyme, and haunting final lines.
Brooks was born June 17, 1917, in Topeka Kansas, but her family moved soon after to Chicago, Illinois. Brooks knew the South Side of Chicago intimately and began writing poetry inspired by her neighborhood as a young woman. Her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, was published in 1945, followed by Annie Allen in 1949. This work, which contained an epic poem called “The Anniad” and depicted a black woman in the World War II era, received the Pulitzer Prize. Brooks was the first black writer to receive this prestigious award.
Brooks went on to publish many more poetry collections, as well as a novel called Maud Martha and a memoir in two parts. She was the first black woman to serve as the United States Poet Laureate (then called the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress), a position she held from 1985 to 1986. Other recognition included a post as Illinois’ poet laureate, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Frost Medal, membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and many other honors. Brooks also taught creative writing at a number of universities.
Brooks came of age in an America torn by racial injustice. Chicago existed as a haven for black families of the Great Migration, who moved north to escape the strict segregation of the Jim Crow South. After her groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize win, the Civil Rights Movement mounted in earnest across the country, as black Americans fought for equal treatment under law. Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry accomplished what Langston Hughes’ work had done a generation earlier: A peerless poetic talent infiltrated the predominately white literary sphere and insisted on recognition.
Seven young men have gathered at a pool hall called The Golden Shovel. They speak as a collective in this ten-line poem. They declare that they have skipped school and are fond of staying out late together for mischief and fun. The final lines predict the boys’ fate: “We / Die soon” (Lines 9-10).