Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Our previous special exhibit Tools of the Trade, which opened June 22, 2019, featured more than a dozen typewriters, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Today, we’re sneaking a peek at Gwendolyn Brooks’s 1964 Hermes Rocket, on loan from her daughter Nora Brooks Blakely.
I am a writer perhaps because I am not a talker.
Gwendolyn Brooks could make a typewriter talk though, that’s for sure. Specifically that typewriter pictured above, a 1964 Hermes Rocket, which was on display in our Tools of the Trade exhibit. This is a lovely little machine, functional in its small frame and sleek by design, yet also charming and cute. And also magical, because Gwendolyn Brooks typed on it, and you can feel that “real cool” magic when you’re close to it.
Originally born in Topeka, Kansas on June 7, 1917, Brooks and her family moved to Chicago when she was just six weeks old. She would call Chicago home the rest of her life. Since we also call Chicago home, we are especially excited to display this typewriter used by one of the defining creative and cultural icons in this city. Brooks’s writing accolades are well-deserved and many — she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950, was appointed Illinois Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, and became the first black woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1976 — just to name a few.
But it is her work as a teacher and mentor for younger writers that solidifies her legacy. Throughout her life she encouraged young people to read and write and advocated for the arts as a healthy outlet for expressing thoughts and feelings. Various Chicago area schools, parks, and cultural centers are named after Brooks, keeping her legacy alive and thriving. Her words remain alive too, and continue to inspire us today.
This typewriter is on loan from Brooks’s daughter Nora Brooks Blakely, and when she dropped it off she informed us of a project she is working on as President of Brooks Permissions, the official licensing firm for the literary works of Gwendolyn Brooks. This project, titled “Graphic Gwendolyn,” is an illustrated poetry series featuring the works of Gwendolyn Brooks. It reads like a graphic novel, with Brooks poems broken down into illustrated panels. It is a new way to engage with her immense and important catalog, especially for more visually-inclined readers. Plus, it is just simply a fun read!
Brooks Permissions is currently developing this series, and they’re asking for your help. They’ll be launching a fundraising campaign soon, and we strongly encourage you to follow the campaign and contribute as it’ll help get Brooks’s words into the hands and minds of young people in a newly engaging way. The introductory issue is based on her classic poem “a song in the front yard,” which you can learn more about in this video.