The Golden Shovel


Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first African American Pulitzer Prize winner and second African American poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks.

At the end of June, 2017, we were pleased to partner with Peter Kahn to present the UK launch of The Golden Shovel Anthology, celebrating the life and work of poet and civil rights icon Gwendolyn Brooks through a dynamic new poetic form, the Golden Shovel, created by National Book Award–winner Terrance Hayes.

The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken from a Brooks poem. The poems are, in a way, secretly encoded to enable both a horizontal reading of the new poem and vertical reading down the right-hand margin of Brooks’s original. An array of writers—including Pulitzer Prize winners, T. S. Eliot Prize winners, National Book Award winners, and National Poet Laureates—have written poems for this exciting new anthology. Above is Camile T. Dungy’s Golden Shovel poem, based on We Real Cool.

To celebrate the launch of the anthology and the life and work of Gwendolyn Brooks, we presented a gala poetry night featuring 20 poets at the British Library in London. Following successful US launches and reading, editor of the anthology, and driving force behind the project, Peter Kahn, came to the UK along with the brilliant US poets Patricia Smith and Terrance Hayes, the Golden Shovel form creator, where they read alongside 16 fantastic British poets who have contributed to the book, and a student of Peter’s from Chicago.

Listen to the poets reading their Golden Shovel poems.

Whilst in London, Patricia and Terrance lead workshops exploring Brooks’s work and the Golden Shovel form alongside Malika Booker and London Young People’s Laureate Caleb Femi, with our partners the Poetry School and Apples & Snakes.


Read Camille T. Dungy’s Golden Shovel poem from the anthology.

Because it looked hotter that way

By Camille T. Dungy

After Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem, “We Real Cool”


we let our hair down.  It wasn’t so much that we
worried about what people thought or about keeping it real
but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we’d blow our cool


sooner or later.  Probably sooner.  Probably even before we
got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left
home wearing clothes we didn’t think belonged in school.


Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we
passed every day on the way to Gym, we’d get old.   Or like Mr. Lurk
who told us all the time how it’s never too late


to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we
could win everything for the team and hear the band strike
up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight


out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk’s hero turned teacher story.  We
had heard it a million times. Sometimes he’d ask us to sing
with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin


ironia, con sentimiento,por favor, and then we
would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin
textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin


in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We
only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz
Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June


and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We
took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die
and go to hell.  Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon.


The People Behind the Golden Shovel Anthology and the UK launch

Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, highly influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was a much-honoured poet, even in her lifetime, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period.

Her body of work gave her, according to critic George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”


Peter Kahn is a founding member of the London poetry collective Malika’s Kitchen, and Malika’s Kitchen Chicago. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in various journals including The Bellingham Review, The Fourth River, and Lumina. He is a prize winner in the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competitionand was a finalist in the Fugue poetry contest, among other competitions. A high school teacher since 1994, Peter was the recipient of the Wallace Douglas Award for contribution to the Chicago youth writing community. Peter says: “I will admit that I am a teacher first and a poet second. I mainly write, therefore, to be a good role model for my students.”

The Golden Shovel anthology has come about because of Peter’s dedication to honouring the memory of Gwendolyn Brooks, his reputation securing the contributions of many fellow poets and his enthusiasm making the project reality.

Golden Shovel author pictures

Left to right: Gwendolyn Brooks, Peter Kahn, Patricia Smith, Terrance Hayes


Patricia Smith is the author of six critically-acknowledged volumes of poetry, including Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, which was awarded the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress, was the winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy American Poets, and was a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America; Blood Dazzler, a National Book Award finalist; Teahouse of the Almighty, a National Poetry Series winner (all from Coffee House Press); Close to Death and Big Towns, Big Talk (both from Zoland Books), and Life According to Motown, just released in a special 20th anniversary edition (Tia Chucha Press). She is a Cave Canem faculty member, a professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island and a faculty member of the Sierra Nevada MFA program.


Terrance Hayes is the author of five books of poetry, including How to Be Drawn (2015) and Lighthead (2010). He has been a recipient of many honours including a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, two Pushcart selections, eight Best American Poetry selections and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His poems have appeared in literary journals such as The New Yorker, The Kenyon Review and Harvard Review and have also been featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Hayes is an elegant and adventurous writer with disarming humour, grace, tenderness and brilliant turns of phrase, very much interested in what it means to be an artist and a black man.

He writes, ‘There are recurring explorations of identity and culture in my work and rather than deny my thematic obsessions, I work to change the forms in which I voice them. I aspire to a poetic style that resists style. In my newest work, I continue to be guided by my interests in people: in the ways community enriches the nuances of individuality; the ways individuality enriches the nuances of community.’

In April, Black British poet Raymond Antrobus went to the USA to give readings as part of a cross-Atlantic Golden Shovel ‘exchange’. You can read about Ray’s experiences on his blog by clicking here.

Raymond Antrobus leading a workshop in Chicago

Raymond Antrobus leading a workshop in Chicago

Golden Shovel events in London to launch the anthology in June 2017.

Thursday 29 June, 7pm – Celebrating the Centenary of Gwendolyn Brooks – poetry performances at the British Library

Friday 30 June, 10.30am – A Poetry Masterclass: Terrance Hayes and Caleb Femi – workshop at Free Word Centre

Saturday 1 July, 10.30am – Masterclass with Patricia Smith and Malika Booker – workshop at The Poetry School


The Golden Shovel UK activities were in partnership with Apples and Snakes, The British Library, Forward Arts Foundation, The Poetry School, Spread the Word and University of Arkansas Press. It was made possible by the generous support of Arts Council England.

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