[1970]: It happened when I was a student at Titusville High School. I was browsing in the school library, and out of curiosity pulling out a random book from the shelves here and there and reading a bit of it and putting it back, just to see if I might find anything particularly interesting this way. By this chance process I happened to come across a thin book of poems called In the Mecca by Gwendolyn Brooks. Perusing this book I was immediately struck by the intensity and liveliness of the author’s language. At the time I knew nothing about Gwendolyn Brooks and knew nothing about poetry other than a few poems that were part of the required readings for English class in school. But this poetry was nothing like that. At the time I was so naïve that I didn’t even realize that the author was black, or that what she was writing about was the culture of poor urban black people. What was important about the book to me was that it had a sense of vitality about it and a feel of inner truth, a recognition of people’s inner humanity. Being a repressed and deeply neurotic kid, to encounter this book was an awakening for me. I began to feel for the first time that literature was alive, that it could illuminate and celebrate the inner lives of human beings. This book was an inspiration, a spark that ignited what was to be my lifelong passion for literature in general and for poetry in particular. Eventually I became a poet myself. I still feel a debt of gratitude to Gwendolyn Brooks. It was she who started me on the practice of poetry, a practice which over the years has helped me to be able to look deeper into my own life, and to expand my sense of my own identity. I wish I could have met Ms. Brooks.

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