THE PROUD POET OF BRONZEVILLE

CHICAGO/MARCH 1981

Brooks
The Contemporary Forum
Audio Clip
For years Gwendolyn Brooks, poet laureate of Illinois, has been giving me the credit. In her frequent appearances before campus and writing groups she tells this story:

"It was Sunday, April 30, 1950, and I was sitting in the dark in my South Side apartment. (The electricity had been turned off because we hadn't paid the bill.) The telephone rang. 'Miss Brooks? This is Jack Star, a reporter for the Sun-Times. I suppose you've heard the good news.' 'What good news?' 'Congratulations. You've won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry!' " Brooks says that she shrieked in delight, put aside the can of beans she had just opened, and took her nineyear-old son to the movies to celebrate.

She had reason to celebrate. So did Chicago. Brooks was the first black woman since Phillis Wheatley, who was brought to Boston from Africa as a slave in 1761, to win recognition as a poet. Furthermore, she is an authentic local product, having grown up on the South Side. In a 1945 Chicago Tribune review of her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, critic Paul Engle rightly called the publication "an exceptional event in the literary life of Chicago."

Although influenced by the first famous black poet, Langston Hughes, she was against what happened in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1 920s, according to George E. Kent, professor of English at the University of Chicago, who is writing her biography. He says, "She wanted to portray blacks as human beings and not as exotics." Poet and critic Paul Carroll, of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, says, "She was able to write successfully out of her own feelings. She rings true."

Of a black nightclub singer, Brooks wrote in the Bronzeville book: Mame was singing At the Midnight Club. And the place was red With blues. She could shake her body Across the floor. For what did she have To lose?

Of the lynching of a black man who had slept with a white woman: But you paid for your white arms, Sammy boy, And you didn't pay with money. You paid with your hide and my heart, Sammy boy, For your taste of pink and white honey. Of love in Bronzeville: That cool chick down on Calumet Has got herself a brand new cat, With pretty patent-leather hair. And he's man enough for her. Us other guys don't think he's such A much. His voice is shrill. His muscle is pitiful. That cool chick down on Calumet, Though, says he's really "it." And strokes the patent-leather hair That makes him man enough for her.

Gwendolyn Brooks lived, from the age of four until she was married at 22, in a large frame house at 4332 South Champlain Avenue. Her father, David Brooks, son of a runaway slave, was a janitor for a music publishing company; he had wanted to be a doctor but could not afford more than a year at Fisk University. Her mother, Keziah Wims, taught elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, until her marriage in 1916. Gwendolyn was born June 7, 1917.

"I had a most wonderful father (no matter what Daniel Moynihan writes about fragmented black families)," brooks says. "He earned no more than 18 to 25 dollars a week, sometimes less, working at two jobs, but we were made to feel secure. He had a gentle, warm voice in which he sang and read me poetry."

Keziah Brooks had ambitions for her children (Gwendolyn had a brother, Raymond, 16 months younger). At age six they were encouraged to get a library card and read books. At seven Gwendolyn wrote a poem which so impressed her mother that she was excused from dishwashing chores so that she could write more poetrv.

Gwendolyn's father brought her an old desk from work; it had a glass-protected shelf on top where she kept books by L. M. Montgomery about a young Canadian girl who wrote. There she also kept the notebooks to which she added two new poems that she composed each day. One, entitled "The Busy Clock," says: Tick, tock, busy clock! You've no time to play! Bustling men and women Need you all the day.

By the time she was 11, Gwendolyn's poems were being published in community newspapers such as the Hyde Park Herald. When she was 16, her mother cornered Langston Hughes at a South Side reading he was giving. He looked over a batch of Gwendolyn's poetry and told her that she was talented and must go on writing.

High school was not an entirely happy experience for the young poet. At a branch of Hyde Park High, which she first attended, Brooks says (in her autobiography Report from Part One): "It was my first experience with many whites around. I wasn't much injured, just left alone. I realized that they were a society apart, and they really made you feel it."

She transferred to Wendell Phillips High School, which was all black. There, she says, "I felt really inferior because I was not one of the girls who danced and went to parties and played the kissing games.... Then I left and went to Englewood, and graduated from it. Englewood was a mixed school; I seemed to get along better there, though I still wasn't popular. There, all blacks were somewhat Alone.... A dark-complexioned girl just didn't have a chance if there was lightskinned competition."

Discussing this color distinction today, Brooks talks matter-of-factly of her dark skin shade: "It goes right back to this business of the whole world worshiping what is white because it's been told to. I was more affected as a girl by the color prejudice within mv own race÷I didn't have much contact with whites."

In a 1970 poem entitled "The Life of Lincoln West," she describes a white man's reaction to a very dark boy with African features: "THERE! That's the kind I've been wanting to show you! One of the best examples of the specie. Not like those diluted Negroes you see so much of on the streets these days, but the real thing. Black, ugly, and odd. you can see the savagery. The blunt blankness. That is the real thing." The boy then comforts himself by saying: After all, I'm the real thing.

At the old Wilson Junior College on the South Side, Brooks discovered the poems of Emily Dickinson in the school library. She confined her social life "to a little group of two or three girls. There were no boys. I was a virgin when I met Henry, my future husband, at 21 at a meeting of the NAACP Youth Council."

It was Brooks's intention to get a job aRer the two yews at Wilson and save enough money to go back to college for a degree. (This she was never able to do, though since then she has been awarded more than 40 honorary degrees.) Instead, she found work as a maid. she refers to this experience in her book The Bean Eaters: The slackness Ofthat light pink mouth told little. The eyes

told of heavy care.

... But that was neither here nor there, And nothing to a wage-paying mistress as

should Be getting her due whether life had been

good For her slave, or bad.

Her next job was arranged by the state employment service. She was sent to the Mecca, a gray hulk of a building four stories high, where several thousand blacks were jammed into what had once been 176 apartments. The site, at West 34th Street between State and Dearborn, is now part of the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technologv. She euned eight dollars a week as a secmonths, when he asked her to go in on Sundays and be the assistant preacher. By then she had gathered enough material for her 54page In the Mecca, in which she describes her job: An old woman wants from the most reverend Prophet of all prophets a piece of cloth, licked by his Second Tongue, to wrap around her paralytic leg. Men with malicious sweethearts, evil sweethearts÷ wringers of bad, bringers of tedium÷ want Holy Thunderbolts, and Love Balls too. And all want lucky numbers all the time.

Quitting the Prophet, Brooks worked as a writer for a magazine read by black clubwomen. In September 1939, after a yeasts courtship, she married Henry Blakely, a cheerful, good-looking man who spent much of his working life as an insurance claims adjuster but who also has written poetry, a volume of which has been published. Even in the "crammed dreariness" of their first apartments, she wrote, "there was fun, there was reading, mutual reading." A son, Henry Jr., was born precipitously, a yew later, in the kitchenette of an aputment under the el on East 63rd Street, an event that Brooks would record in her novel, Maud Martha.

The year 1941 was a turning point for Brooks. A New North Side Brahmin named Inez Cunningham Stark (later Boulton), a culture mavin and a reader for Poetry magazine, went to the South Side Community Art Center to hold poetry classes. "Her aarms would be loaded with books," Brooks reminisced, "books from her own beloved library, to be freely loaned.... Once she gave a Poetry subscription to every one of some 15 members of the class."

Biographer George Kent gives Stark the credit "for Gwendolyn's final shaping. Gwendolyn was still giving too much attention to traditional forms. Now she started paying attention to modern forms, to the use of irony." Stark's teaching comments were to the point: "All you need in this poem we the last four lines.... 'The last shred of his race' can be improved÷a dinosaur is hardly a shred.... Dig at this until you have us see all the skeleton and no fat."

For inspiration, Brooks says, she had only to look outside her 63rd Street window: "There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing."

In 1943, after winning a local poetry prize, Brooks was asked by an editor at Alfred A. Knopf to submit some of her poems. She sent at least 40 and was advised to concentrate on the "Negro poems" and to resubmit them when she had enough. Afraid of being turned down again, she instead sent the "Negro poems" to the prestigious Harner and Brothers, which published them in August 1945, as World War II ended,under the title A Street in Bronzeville.

Since then Brooks has published nine more books of poetry, a novel, three books of children's verses, and a volume of her autobiography. This year, at the age of 64, she will deliver to the publisher the second volume of her autobiography and continue work on another book of poems and a book of short stories.

Few poets con live on what they earn from poetry. Brooks wrote book reviews for the Chicago Daily News, Sun-Times, and Tribune as well as the New York Herald Tribune, Negro Digest, and the New York Times, und was paid modestly for them. In 1963 Mirron Alexundroff, president of Columbia College, talked her into stating a poetry workshop.

"I needed the money," Brooks says, "so I taught there und later at Northeastern Illinois State College, Elmhurst College, and the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Although I have trouble parsing a sentence, I felt competent teaching freshman English, 20th-century poetry and the short story, as well as conducting poetry and fiction workshops." Her teaching cheer ended abruptly in 1971 when she found commuting by plane to New York's City College every Monday and returning to Chicago on Tuesday too much for her.

As a teacher, it angered Brooks that standard English textbooks rarely touched on writing by Jews and blacks. "When I could," she says, "I brought black writers of my own acquaintance to visit, to speak, paying for them myself." She also "would deputize a couple of students and, providing tickets for them, send them off to a poetry reading (such as [Yevgeny] Yevtushenko's at the University of Chicago), and the lucky duo would subsequently report on that experience to the rest of the class."

Brooks is generous in crediting the many white people who befriended her in her younger years. In her writing, she has given thanks to such critics, authors, journalists, and educators as Robert and Alice Cromie, the late Hoke Norris, Herman Kogan, Emmett Dedmon, Sydney J. Harris, Nelson Algren ("who got me my first good magazine assignment"), Irv Kupcinet, Paul Carroll, Ann Barzel of the Illinois Arts Council, Mirron Alexandroff, and a host of others. But curious resentments emerge:

"They thought I was lovely," Brooks has written. "I was a sort of pet. They thought I was nice, and I was nice. I believed in integration, and so did they. But now, I rarely see these people, though a couple still call themselves my friends."

Asked by an interviewer if she missed them, she said: "No. But you see, I couldn't. That would be impossible. I just don't think 'that way' any more." Recently, when I asked Brooks to comment on this statement, she said: "I stand by what I said. In 1967, 1968, 1969, blacks and whites drifted apart, and it should be no surprise that friendships should blink out."

Poet and critic Paul Carroll offers this explanation: "I would see Gwen at literary cocktail parties and she was their token black. She was treated very well, but Gwen was very black, not tan, not one of us secretly. She was treated kind of condescendingly. Then, in the 1960s, blacks came into their own and she became the queen mother÷especially in Chicago, but all over the country. She started wearing Africanstyle turbans at readings. She really came into her own, really admired by the young black writers."

At the 1967 Fisk University Black Writers Conference, the middle-aged poet found herself strongly attracted to the angry young blacks there. "I [had] thought that integration was the solution," she wrote. "All we had to do was keep on appealing to the whites to help us, and they would.... l relied heavily on Christianity. People were really good, I thought...." Of the young black writers she met, she says: "The most striking difference was that they just didn't countenance integration. That was out. I had been asleep. If I had been reading even the newspaper intelligently, I too would have seen that it simply was not working, that there was too much against it, that blacks kept exposing themselves to it only to get their faces smacked."

Brooks was baffled that whites considered her bitter. "White people," she says, "would come up after a reading and ask, 'Why we you so bitter? Don't you think that things are improving?' " Her answer:

"I know now that I am essentially an essential African, in occupancy here because of an indeed 'peculiar' institution.... I know that the black-and-white integration concept, which in the mind of some beaming early saint was a dainty spinning dream, has wound down to farce.... I know that the black emphasis must be, not against white, but FOR black."

Brooks's new poetry began to reflect her beliefs. Of the tough street gang called the Blackstone Rangers, some of whom she lured to a poetry class, she wrote: There they are. Thirty at the corner. slack, raw, ready. Sores in the city that do not want to heal. Of Malcolm X she wrote: He had the hawk-man's eyes. We gasped. We saw the maleness. The maleness raking out and making guttural the air and pushing us to walls.

Of a black youth, shot to death while running in the alley behind her South Side house, she wrote: I never saw his face at all. I never saw his futurefall. but I have known this boy. I have always heard him deal with death. I have always heard the shout, the volley. I have closed my heart-ears late and early. And I have killed him ever.

As one measure of Brooks's feeling, she pulled away from Harper after 24 years of association and took her work to the Broadside Press, an obscure black publisher in Detroit. Paul Carroll says of the switch: "She made the move at a financial loss, but she told me that if you're black you help blacks. She could have got a lot more reviews with a New York publisher." Most recently, after publishing some of her own pamphlets on poetry, Brooks has signed with another obscure black publisher, the Third World Press of Chicago. B rooks's home for nearly 30 years has been a Spartan, red-pinted, one-story frame house near 74th and Cottage Grove. At nine in the morning dinner is already cooking on the stove, turkey tails soaking up frozen lemonade, white wine, and curry pow der. "My problem is things like turkey tails," says Brooks, patting her trim, five-foot six inch figure. "I should have no more than one a day, but I'll have three." When her weight passes 140, she starts dieting.

The tiny living room is undistinguished except for a newish Baldwin spinet, which Brooks demonstrates she can dominate in a thumping, music-hall fashion. The tiny front bedroom is obviously a place where she spends much of her time. A 12-foot-high bookcase holds some of her favorite volumes and an entire shelf of her leather-bound honorary degrees. A color TV guarantees that Brooks won't miss any of the old movies to which she confesses an addiction; a fan provides modest "air conditioning"; a small electric pot sits next to the makings of tea and Sanka.

The bedroom is where Brooks does most of her work, scrawling with a ball-point pen on a small, unlined note pad. Here she refines over and over again the notes she makes whenever she gets an inspiration.

Brooks is on close terms with her 29year-old daughter, Nora, for some years a public school teacher, who now runs a private fine-arts school for children nearby at 7128 South Jeffery. Nora has a book of poetry coming out this year. "Yes, we're very close," Brooks says. "Sometimes Nora will call at seven a.m. and at nine we're still talking." Her son, who now calls himself Hank, lives in Washington, D.C., where he is a management consultant for state and regional governments. Brooks is inveterately proud of her children and their accomplishments.

Brooks is not home a great deal. she is fairly constantly on the road, making personal appearances on campuses and reading her poetry to various groups around the country. Her average fee is $1,750 (including travel expenses); with some 40 or 50 bookings a year, this comes to a respectable income for a poet.

"She used to have up to 70 bookings a year, but she hasn't flown since the American Airlines DC-10 crash at O'Hare Field in 1979," says her lecture agent, Beryl Zitch, of Contemporary Forum in West Rogers Park, who books such celebrities as Studs Terkel and Harry Mark Petrakis. (Brooks has also refused to ride the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad commuter line since a 1972 accident in which 45 persons were killed.) A South Side travel agent named Anita Beard works out Brooks's complicated itineraries, relying entirely on such common carriers as Amtrak, Greyhound, and Trailways. Brooks does not have a driver's license. The arrangements take some doing.

This past February, carrying only a small suitcase with three dresses, a purse and a plastic book bag ("There's no such thing as a porter any more"), Brooks sat out for William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on the tenth; on the 13th she was back in Chicago for a "tribute to the works of Gwendolyn Brooks" at the University of Chicago; on the 15th she was at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; on the 19th at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts; on the 20th at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut; on the 21st at Rhode Island College in Providence; on the 22nd at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and on the 26th at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant. By the time you read this, she may have made her way across the country to California State University at Fresno.

This hectic schedule is made even more demanding by ha reception on campus. A delegation of 20 or 25 people frequently greets her at the railroad or bus station, sometimes carrying a giant wreath spelling out W-E-L-C-O-M-E. "They try to touch me," says Brooks, who is bewildered by the attention: "ARer all, we're all human beings; we all go to the bathroom."

Beryl Zitch, who has become one of Brooks's closest friends, asks the sponsor to make sure that the poet has a TV set in her room. Brooks complains that university sleeping quarters frequently don't even have a radio, let alone a television set. Usually Brooks attends a class or two, leads several workshops, and then goes to a dinner and a reception afterward. Invariably there is a breakfast to attend the following morning.

Zitch worries that Brooks spends the lecture fees as fast as they come in. "She just spoke at the African Poetry Center in New York for a special low fee of only Sl,000," Zitch says. "Then she promptly made a contribution to the center of S500."

"My friends say I give away too much, but there is such a need, such a temptation," Brooks retorts. For 11 years now she has been giving Illinois Poet Laureate Awards to promising high-school and elementaryschool poets, as many as 23 awards of S25. She also makes "black student awards" to winning essayists or letter writers at black colleges on the topic of what they should do for themselves, their race, and the world.

One of the most interesting Brooks beneficences has been her sponsorship, for the past four years, of 18 high-school boys and girls who live on her block and come to her home regularly for talks with such luminaries as journalist Lerone Bennett and State Senator Richard Newhouse. Brooks sent two girls in the group (chaperoned by her daughter) to Ghana by way of London and Paris. Two of the boys were given S 1,500 apiece so that they could attend Columbia College and Northern Illinois University.

Eager to see Gwendolyn Brooks on the lecture circuit, I journey to the High land Park Country Club, where 55 women, all white and apparently upper middle class, have invited her to a luncheon of the Off Campus Writers Workshop. Cocktails are at 11:30 a.m., but at 11:45 there still is no word from Brooks. The hostesses become anxious. Finally, a phone call at 11:56 announces that Brooks is just leaving her home, some 40 miles away. "CT," one of the hostesses says. "CT?" I ask. "Colored time," she explains. "They are different."

The soup and quiche have been served by 1:04 p.m., when Brooks arrives, regal in a maroon dress and blue turban. The taxi driver has charged her only S23.50÷a bargain, she says. Nibbling some sherbet, Brooks asks her tablemates what writers they like. They name several men. "Don't you like any of the women?" she demands.

Lunch finished, Brooks assumes a practiced stance before a lectern and corrects the woman who has introduced her. "It's not 30 honorary degrees but 40 that I've been awarded," she says. "But to keep you from hating me, I don't have one I earned proper."

Brooks points to me and tells the story again of how I phoned her 31 years ago to announce that she had won the Pulitzer Prize. "My son was only nine, but even he knew the significance of the Pulitzer Prize," she says. 'He danced in the dark around the kitchen table."

Then, picking up a thin pamphlet she has just published herself, entitled Young Poet's Primer, Brooks reads from it: "Use fresh language. But the basis of your fresh language is ordinary speech. Do not write anything that sounds like 'Thou saintly skies of empyrean blue, through which there soarest sweetest bird of love.' Because people do not talk that way today. (Did they ever?) Also, do not use such old-fashioned words as ecstasy, or ethereaL Do not say death, neter, e'er, or 'mid Instead, say beneath or below; say never, My ever. say among."

The women listen intently as Brooks defends the idea of black poetry: "Many people say there shouldn't be any such thing as black poetry, just poetry. There was a lot of spanking done of blacks in the late sixties for wanting to write black poetry. But why? After all, Isaac Bashevis Singer won the Nobel Prize, writing as a Jew about Jews for Jews and we all enjoyed him."

Opening a well-worn copy of A Street in Bronzevflle, Brooks reads her poem "The Mother." Her reading style is not at all like the keening Welsh cadences of Dylan Thomas. She reads with great expression, accenting certain lines: Abortions will not let you forget You remember the children you got that you did not get. Believe me, I loved you a-l-l-l-l-l-l-l. Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you A-l-l-lllll.

Most of the women in the room are mothers, and some might very well have had abortions. They listen, enthralled. Brooks says, "I hasten to add that I've never had an abortion; in this time of frankness, I tell you that." She talks to the women about her marriage of 41 years and how she and her husband can talk in shorthand to one another, having shared so many experiences.

"The Life of Lincoln West" is one of her favorites, and, reading this poem, Brooks emphasizes "the real t-h-i-n-g" as the small black boy comforts himself upon being called "black, ugly and odd." she reads a poem about some horses she saw from a train window. It is a poem, she says, that "some of my black poetry-writing friends might not appreciate: 'Why are you writing about cows and horses? That isn't relevantl' " The women laugh appreciatively.

The audience questions her. one woman makes a statement: "I would like to say that your poetry is like music, beautiful music." A young blonde asks if Brooks's better contribution was poetry or the two children she brought into the world. Brooks tells what her children do in life and how proud she is of them and how much time she spends on the phone with her daughter. She says that having children was her Breater contribution. "It's like throwing stones into water. The rip- | ples go way out," she says.

The meeting over, Brooks sits at the table where her poet's primer is being sold for four dollars. She autographs copies patiently, over and over: "For Mary / Sincerely, Gwendolyn Brooks . . .," "For Belle . . .," "For Jane . . .," "For Carolyn . . .," until the last woman has gone.

Next day, at the all-black Gompers Middle School at 123rd and State, the setting is much different. Four hundred of the 579 students have crowded into the assembly hall, one wall of which bears a big sign: WELCOME GWENDOLYN BROOKS. Three girls and a young boy read their poetry as she listens alertly. Grasping the lectern, Brooks, who is now wearing an Africanstyle wool knit cap, shows off the orchid that has been presented to her by a committee of fifth graders. Pointing to her blue denim dress, she says that she will save the orchid for more suitable attire. Then she exhorts the children to enter her Poet Laureate contest. What should they write about? Brooks answers: "You can write about flowers and trees and springtime, but other subjects could be church, basketball, football, swimming, picnics, discos, horses, ants, rock music hymns, pancakes, milk shakes, McDonald's hamburgers, teen-agers. Write about the old people, people like you except they have been around a long time and you will look like them sooner than you think [laughter]. Write about garbage cans, bicycles, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King...."

Brooks tells the children what she was like when she was 19: "In those strange times I wanted my hair to grow very long, in the best Hollywood tradition. Now Hollywood has appropriated some of our hair styles." She sneers at the Bo Derek character in the movie 10. "You see, the reason we don't want to be told that we are imitating Bo Derek is that corn-rowing goes way back in our history, thousands of years." She reads from a po Gimme an upsweep, Minnie, With humpteen baby curls. 'Bout time I got some glamour. I'11 show them girls. Then she reads from her 1980 Primer for Blacks. Sisters! I love you. Because you love you. You have not bought Blondine~ You have not hailed the hot-comb recently. You never worshipped Marilyn Monroe. You say: Farrah's hair is hers. You have not wanted to be white.

"Don't drop out of school," Brooks tells the kids. "You'll need all the education you can get. This next poem, 'We Real Cool,' is about seven boys I saw playing pool during school hours. Don't follow their example and leave school": We real cool. We Left school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June. we Die soon.

There is silence. Then the questions begin.

"How many poems have you written lately?" Brooks: "In the past year I've written about 30 poems, but that doesn't mean that they're all good or that you'll see them."

"Was it hard for you to get published as a black woman?" Brooks: "I was published at a time when if a black woman could wave a pencil over a piece of paper that was considered amazing."

Now it is autograph time, and Brooks signs her name on light-blue cards that she has brought along: "Sincerely, to Sonya . . . ," "To Stephanie ...," "To Arola ...," "To William (one of my poet friends).... " A boy and a girl from the school newspaper conduct a tape-recorded interview as Brooks continues to write her name: "What kind of advice can you give a beginning poet?" Brooks: "First, to keep a journal, and to do a good deal of reading, not only poetry but history and biography." She continues signing the autograph cards. "I hope you will turn these cards over when you get home," she tells the children, holding up an advertisement on the back for her daughter's fine-arts school, the Anchor Arts Organization. The card says: "Give someone you love a class in drama, writing, guitar, piano, art, voice, dance."

In the school lunchroom, Brooks takes three pieces of pastry baked by the PTA mothers ("They're for Henry, my husband-not me," she tells me) and wraps them in a napkin. She is still signing her name, this time in her Primer for Blacks and Young Poet's Primer, which are on sale here. Mistakenly starting an inscription with a "P." she asks: "Does anyone's name start with a 'P'?" and a woman named Pearl steps forward. "Sincerely, to Pearl / Gwendolyn Brooks ...," "To Earl ...," "To Jessie ...," "To Chavonne ...," "To Tasha...."

One of the mothers wants her to autograph the program of the school assembly. Brooks writes her name carefully atop "Ode to Gwendolyn Brooks," written by Trina, Alicia, and Jackie of Room 217. The ode is perceptive:

Strong beautiful, black woman a delight to the eye,
Your power with words no one can deny.
We stand humble before you
Your talents are superb
We thank you for your words which brought joy to the world.
--END