“We Real Cool”, Gwendolyn Brooks

Saturday, May 1, marks the anniversary of Ms. Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for a book of poems entitled “Annie Allen”.

Ms. Brooks is perhaps better known by young people for a short, and on first reading, not very profound poem, “We Real Cool”. According to Ms. Brooks, this poem is not one of her better ones and she has said that she would have liked it if textbook authors had ignored it for one of her other poems.

“We Real Cool” was the result of an observation made by Brooks on the way home one day. She passed a neighborhood pool hall, The Golden Shovel, where she observed seven young men shooting pool when they should have been in school. Instead of wondering why they weren’t in school, she considered how they must feel about themselves and about the establishment. Thus, the poem was conceived.

It has been banned here and there, according to Ms. Brooks, because the word “jazz” took on sexual connotations for some people. She was referencing music. However, she had no objections if the sexual connotation helped anybody. In her later writings Ms. Brooks increased the use of her vernacular (a language spoken by people of a particular group or from a certain area) to make her works more understandable for African Americans, as well as for university audiences and the editors of poetry magazines.

Below is a You Tube reading of the poem by the author followed by the written version of the poem.


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

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