Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 14, 2019


Author Alice Faye Duncan has new picture book titled, A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS illustrated by Xia Gordon. It is the first picture book biography to explore the life and times of Chicago poet–Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1950, Miss Brooks was the first African American writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize. It’s, now, available in bookstores.

Alice has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Alice!


“The combination of biography and Brooks’ own poems makes for a strong, useful, and beautiful text . . . A solid introduction to a brilliant writer”—Kirkus.

Acclaimed writer Alice Faye Duncan tells the story of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.

With a voice both wise and witty, Gwendolyn Brooks crafted poems that captured the urban Black experience and the role of women in society. She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing constantly from a young age, her talent lovingly nurtured by her parents. Brooks ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies, and one novel. Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn’s life and work, illuminating the tireless struggle of revision and the sweet reward of success.


“A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks” is an idea that began with American poet Etheridge Knight. I met him in 1978 when a Memphis museum sponsored artist visits in the city schools. The museum dispatched Etheridge Knight to Mrs. Fee’s sixth-grade class at Snowden Elementary. I sat in my front row desk while poet Phyllis Tickle introduced her friend to us.

Mrs. Tickle called Mr. Knight, who was born in Corinth, a “Native Mississippian.” She said he had survived the Korean War and discovered his writing genius while serving time in an Indiana prison. She also shared that it was another poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, who helped Etheridge Knight publish his first book of poems.

During my sixth-grade year, I was a disciple of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. My parents owned his collected works and “In the Morning” was my favorite poem. My mother recited it as my morning wake-up call.

Like Dunbar, I filled my journals with folksy poems written in the language of my local community. When I encountered Mr. Knight in 1978, I had met no writer in person, but I loved poetry and listened with interest as he read his work aloud. His voice was like the grumble of a gravel road. Decked in a tweed cap and a scruffy beard, he looked like my father.

Several days after his visit, I found his poem, “The Idea of Ancestry” in a local library. Only a few words made sense to my young mind. However, I received a grand understanding in 1978. I learned that I, too, could publish poems and be a professional poet like Etheridge Knight.

A page from "A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks" by Alice Faye DuncanA page from “A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks” by Alice Faye Duncan (Photo: Xia Gordon)

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. I am a middle-aged writer who remembers sixth-grade. I remember how Etheridge Knight captured my attention. Perhaps the poet’s triumph with words could inspire a new generation of readers. An idea took root. I would write a children’s book about his life.

Etheridge Knight died in 1991 and I would need Phyllis Tickle’s memories to write his biography. I searched online for her telephone number. A voice filled with joy answered the phone. Phyllis apologized saying, “I can’t talk long.” Lung cancer required that she use her breath judiciously. Our call ended. She said, “Send me your questions. Email is best.”

Phyllis, who lived in Lucy near Millington, was a retired Episcopal lay minister who had served as Publishers Weekly’s first religion editor. Our email exchange would soon alter my writing plans. In my first note, I asked about her connection with Etheridge Knight. She called him “the best of all of us.” Phyllis went on to explain that Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize, was his “faithful and stabilizing friend.” She mentored him and visited the Tickle home when Etheridge lived in Memphis.

Phyllis was not certain of the date, but in her reply, she was eager to share a story about Gwendolyn Brooks. She and her husband, Dr. Sam Tickle, were a charismatic pair, famous for hosting literary salons. In honor of Brooks and her Memphis visit, the Tickles served Southern fare and celebratory spirits in a living room crowded with Memphis poets, playwrights, and college professors. Because they understood the magnitude of hosting a Pulitzer Prize poet, the couple’s four youngest children darted across the room with excited “eeks” and shrills.

When Etheridge arrived with Gwendolyn in tow, the Pulitzer Prize poet sat down in a harp-back chair. From the wooden seat, Gwendolyn engaged in lively banter. She read her poems and enchanted the children with the tinkling sound of her laughter.
At some point during the evening, Gwendolyn leaned to one side and a chair spoke broke. Phyllis wrote to me, “We all thought the dadgummed chair should be reverenced afterward as something close to a sacred object.” The Tickle family never repaired the chair. Phyllis wrote to me, “That would be a sacrilege!”

This memory of a broken chair turned my attention toward Gwendolyn Brooks. If the life of Etheridge Knight was worthy of illumination—surely his literary mother deserved the highest elevation and a biography of her own.

After speaking with Phyllis, I dropped all my other projects to explore the life of Gwendolyn Brooks. When Phyllis died in the fall of 2015, I searched academic journals for another soul who could offer a golden understanding of the Pulitzer Prize poet.
I found that resource in my mother’s schoolmate, Dr. Gloria Wade Gayles from the Lemoyne College Class of 1959. Dr. Gayles is a scholar and literary critic who spent her career researching and writing about Gwendolyn Brooks, including “Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks.”

As with Phyllis Tickle, I found Dr. Gayles in an online phone book. Already late for a luncheon, she answered the phone in a rush. When I explained the reason for my call, she praised my efforts and offered me an affirming oracle to send me on my way. Dr. Gayles said, “Gwen has reached for you as an instrument…You are the giver of a gift.”


Alice Faye Duncan is the award-winning author of “Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop” and other children’s books. She lives in Memphis. Her new book, “A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks”, illustrated by Xia Gordeon, will be published in January. She will host a virtual book signing Jan. 1 at

Alice says her inspiration often comes from her surroundings. “I try to surround myself around good people, good music, good books, and good art. All of these things cause me to think, and they spark my creativity. I recommend that other aspiring artists of any kind—do the same. And then when the muses gather—just let inspiration take control.” Through her job as a high-school librarian, Duncan has also been able to inspire the students she works with by exposing them to a variety of writing, particularly poetry. As she told Vanessa St. Leger for NSA Today, “Poetry helps facilitate reading, writing, and learning in general.”

Have you heard the name, “Pinkney?” Alice’s book–JUST LIKE A MAMA will make its debut on Mother’s Day (2019). The illustrator is Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Her grand father is Caldecott illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Charnelle is a master artist too. Get ready to be charmed with impressive images and a lyrical text.

Her books include Honey Baby Sugar ChildMemphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, and The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee. She serves as a school librarian in her hometown of Memphis. Visit her at


Illustrator Xia Gordon graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Cartooning & Illustration. Her comic Kindling was published by 2dcloud in early 2017 and she has worked with clients such as The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Lenny Letter, and Narratively. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at:

Alice thanks for sharing your book and journey with us and thanks for sharing Gwendolyn Brooks with us. Good Luck!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Its been a long time since I read a really good book. My favourite book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I like themes that rejects social prejudices and brings out the compassion in people. I look forward to reading A Song For Gwendolyn Brooks and put it high on my list of favourite books.

    I’ve shared on twitter.


    • How exciting! (I mean the publication of the book. The giveaway is cool too though so I hope I win 🙂


  2. Oh, I can’t wait to read this book! Your journey to this story is amazing! I got to meet her when I was in high school, in 88 or 89. Friends and I even read We Real Cool to the beat of We Will Rock You.


  3. What a great book! Thank you for sharing your journey! Best of luck to you!


  4. This book looks amazing! Congratulations.


  5. A fascinating book journey. Thank you, Alice, for bringing the story of Gwendolyn Brooks to the attention of young readers – and older ones! I paused at your description of Etheridge Knight’s visit to your classroom: “His voice was like the grumble of a gravel road.” What a beautiful, evocative sentence! You are clearly a gifted poet too! Best of luck with this book.


  6. oh I can’t wait to read this book! And I just have to share that i was also a 6th grader once with Phyllis Tickle standing in front of my class;) She really was a literary ambassador in the south…. how cool that she was part of this journey.


  7. Excited to read this one–looks wonderful! (And how cool to read that Jerry Pickney’s granddaughter is an illustrator.)


  8. What a lovely book. I must confess I was unaware of Gwendolyn Brooks until now. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!
    I’ve tweeted a link top this post:, and pinned an image on Pinterest with a link as well: Thanks again, have a great week!!


  9. Congratulations on your latest #PB #Biography! What an important poet to celebrate.


  10. I really enjoyed reading about the journey of this book. I’m so looking forward to reading it!


  11. Can’t wait to read this one! Congrats!


  12. I can’t believe how amazing your journey and the journey of this book is, Alice! From your parents to the poets and all the connections, it’s a thriller all in itself. It’s just so beautiful how they all played a role in inspiring and encouraging your path. And it makes me wish I could’ve been at those literary salons! Wow 🙂 Congrats on what looks like SUCH a beautiful book 😀


  13. No this is “Real Cool.” Thanks for the give away.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is beautiful! Most definitely shared! Congrats to Alice and Xia!


  15. The story behind the development of this book is priceless. I especially enjoyed hearing about the Tickle family’s experience with hosting Gwendolyn Brooks in their home. Thank you to Alice for sharing your journey with us and for writing this book about a phenomenal poet.


  16. I love to read nonfiction picture book biographies. I don’t know anything about the subject here and this book will be fun to read while I learn new things. Congratulations on publishing an important book for kids of all ages to read.


  17. I would love this book for my daughter.


  18. Alice, you rock.


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