Lights and Shadows

(The staff of the Chicago Defender)

A few years ago, I was reading about Gwendolyn Brooks and stumbled across a few references to Lights and Shadowsa poetry column that ran in the Chicago Defender back in the 1920s and 30s. The column published some of Brooks’s earliest poems, written when she was a teenager living in Bronzeville. She describes that time—or I guess just a bit before that time—in her autobiography:

Dreamed a lot. As a little girl I dreamed freely, often on the top step of the back porch—morning, noon, sunset, deep twilight. I loved clouds, I loved red streaks in the sky. I loved the gold worlds I saw in the sky… I was writing all the time. My mother says I began rhyming at seven—but my notebooks date back to my eleventh year only. Careful rhymes. Lofty meditations.

I couldn’t find much information about Lights and Shadows—which made me curious, which lead me into the Defender’s archives, which lead me into a little poetic community I found totally captivating, which eventually lead me to Dewey Roscoe Jones Jr.— the son of the man who edited Lights and Shadows for most of its existence. He’s now the keeper of his father’s collected letters, papers, and writings, and he generously spoke with me and shared some of those materials.

The whole story of Lights and Shadows (at least what I could reconstruct) is up on the Poetry Foundation’s website. Check it out and please spread the word to people or communities who might know more about this history. Most—maybe all—of the poets who published in L&S have died, but I’d love to hear from any friends or relatives who have memories.

This image comes from a 1927 Defender article on Lights and Shadows, which introduced a bunch of the column’s contributing poets. The story was written by L&S editor Dewey Roscoe Jones Sr. (Click for a bigger view).

Every Thing In It

Exploring the Shel Silverstein archive in Chicago:

One of the things you learn is that “polymath” doesn’t even begin to describe Silverstein. His creativity extended in so many directions that his archivists must be versed not just in turn-of-the-century world children’s literature, but Waylon Jennings’s deep cuts; not just in reel-to-reel tape preservation, but how to keep an old restaurant napkin scribbled with lyrics from falling apart. And you also learn that Silverstein seemed to have a terrific time drawing, rhyming, and singing his way through life.

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