In this episode, we’ll discuss the life and work of poet, author, educator and community builder Gwendolyn Brooks, who was born in Topeka, Kansas. She moved to Chicago at just a few weeks old, where she remained an integral figure in the city for the rest of her life. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. Miss Brooks once wrote, “If you wanted a poem, you only had to look out of a window. There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.” Her list of accolades is rightfully long, including the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Annie Allen, making her the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize. However, Miss Brooks’s legacy goes far beyond awards, and today we are joined by three writers and educators from Chicago who know Miss Brooks’s impact firsthand.
For this episode we are pleased to welcome award-winning writer, scholar, and cultural organizer Dr. Eve L. Ewing; award-winning writer, editor, and educator Nate Marshall; and educator, author, and legacy keeper Nora Brooks Blakely, who manages Brooks Permissions and is the daughter of Gwendolyn Brooks.
Eve, Nate, and Nora are interviewed by Nate King, Digital Content Associate at the American Writers Museum. This conversation originally took place April 25, 2023 and was recorded over Zoom.
Continue your appreciation of Gwendolyn Brooks! Here are links to some things mentioned in this episode that you’ll also enjoy.
- No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks: See it performed again in Chicago in May! Written by Ewing and Marshall with music by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods, the performance combines intricate paper puppetry, live actors working in shadow, and an original score for an unforgettable multi-media experience.
- “We Real Cool”: Using simple, illuminative paper-cut puppetry, this enchanting video imagines the moment of witness that inspired Gwendolyn Brooks to write her landmark poem, “We Real Cool.” Created by Manual Cinema in association with Crescendo Literary, with story by Eve Ewing and Nate Marshall and music by Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods.
- avery r. young: Congratulations to the award-winning poet, educator, musician, artist, composer and producer who was just named the inaugural Chicago Poet Laureate!
- Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice: Visit the AWM to explore our current special exhibit to explore and better understand racial injustice in America by examining the work of Black American writers from the end of the Civil War through the Civil Rights Movement. Brooks’s poem “Riot” is featured in the exhibit.
About this episode’s guests:
Dr. Eve L. Ewing is a writer, scholar, and cultural organizer from Chicago. She is the award-winning author of four books: the poetry collections Electric Arches and 1919, the nonfiction work Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side, and a novel for young readers, Maya and the Robot. She is the co-author (with Nate Marshall) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. She has written several projects for Marvel Comics, most notably the Ironheart series, and is currently writing Black Panther. Ewing is an associate professor in the Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity at the University of Chicago. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many other venues. Currently she is working on her next book, Original Sins: The (Mis)education of Black and Native Children and the Construction of American Racism, which will be published by One World.
Nate Marshall is a writer, editor, and educator from the South Side of Chicago. He is the award-winning author of two full-length books of poems, Finna and Wild Hundreds. He is an editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. He is also co-author (with Eve L. Ewing) of the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Marshall is an assistant professor in the creative writing program at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Nora Brooks Blakely, a former teacher, founded Chocolate Chips Theatre Company (1982-2011) and was its primary playwright. The daughter of two writers, Henry Blakely (Windy Place) and Gwendolyn Brooks (the first Black person to ever win the Pulitzer Prize). She founded Brooks Permissions in 2001 to license and promote her mother’s work through programming and publications which demonstrate Gwendolyn Brooks’ continuing relevance. After writing plays and musicals for decades, Nora recently released her first children’s book, Moyenda and The Golden Heart, a Kwanzaa origin tale. You can learn more about Ms. Blakely here.