Gwendolyn Brooks, author of "We Real Cool", was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917. She has written over twenty books of poetry, an autobiography and numerous other works including one novel. Brooks attended many high schools including Hyde Park High School, Wendell Phillips, and Englewood High School. Attending a diverse assortment of schools influenced some of Brooks writings. Her first publication was a poem in American Childhood Magazine in1930. By 1934 Brooks began working for the Chicago Defender writing weekly poetry. She graduated form Wilson Junior College in 1936. From there the young writer flourished and won many awards for her literature including the Pulitzer Prize, American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Shelly Memorial Award. She was the first African American to win the prestigious Pulitzer Award. This poem was written in 1966 at the height of the civil rights movement and was geared towards young, disenfranchised African Americans. In the poem, Brooks uses a variety of poetic devices including symbolism, language, musical devices and patterned repetition to express the irony of a "cool" lifestyle leading to an early grave.
The italicized introduction to the poem is "The Pool Players. Seven at the Golden Shovel." It is especially symbolic. Labeling them as Pool Players takes away from their individuality as people. The group is attached to the pool hall and therefore to the negative stigma of pool halls. The Golden Shovel is also no run of the mill shovel, and the seven pool players, who we by now have realized are on a quick path to an early destruction, hang out there and are just waiting to bury themselves. How ironic is the symbolism of being real cool and digging your own grave with a big golden shovel? The pool hall, like the shovel, is the means by which the young players will bury themselves.
With only a limited number of words in the poem Brooks makes brilliant use of language.