“In An Afterword: for gwen (the search for the new-song begins with the old)” Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti) refers to them (himself and Gwendolyn) as “we ordinary people” who “just know ordinary people.” This poem was written in 1971, and published in a collection of other poems dedicated to Brooks, in 1971. The political message was that they were not better than the average black person in the ghetto. Theoretically, one cannot have a revolution, without the unity of the masses. This is the rhetoric and the ideology that Gwendolyn Brooks was immersed in, and was reflected in her work. As if speaking directly to the white critics who were disappointed in Brooks transition, Lee defends her choice to publish black and write black: “Gwendolyn Brooks by her dealing with the young poets, Broadside Press and other institutions is only “in keeping” with what other, “European” artists have always done to aid their own” (Madhubuti, 21). He quotes an extended version of the famous quote in which she speaks of her “next future” and goal to write poems for “all” black people. “Not always to ‘teach’-I shall wish often to entertain, to illumine. My newish voice will not be an imitation of the contemporary young black voice, which I so admire, but an extending adaptation of today’s Gwendolyn Brooks’ voice” (Madhubuti, 22).
The year that the huge shift took place, was also the year that she met Don L. Lee, 1967. He recalls the image of first seeing Brooks teaching young gangsters in a church, “the intricacies of putting words to paper in poetic form.” He calls their relationship “33 years of a loving familyhood.” She died holding not the hands of her daughter Nora and biological son’s hands, but the hands of Nora and Haki. In 1989, as Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University (a predominantly black school), Madhubuti founded the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing. “Ms. Brooks was a woman who could not live without her art, but who had never put her art above or before the people she wrote about. . . She wrote the soul of her people” (25). Madhubuti expresses his affection and admiration for Brooks in many poems, but his feelings for her as a Mother are deep and moving in “A Mother’s Poem: (for G.B),” “I speak of you in smiles/and seldom miss a moment/to thank you for/saving a son,” written in 1984. He says “she literally transformed and saved my life.” To publish in any other arena, or to write under the constraints of standard, “European” style and form would have been an abandonment of what she loved most deeply, her black people. In “Gwendolyn Brooks: No Final Words,” Madhubuti writes,
“she deciphered the multiple layers of accommodation
that often trap the best of us.
she refused first class passage and caviar.
she sidestepped isolation, re-enslavement and tell-lies culture.
she remained attached to her language,
her people and all children” (60).
Madhubuti, Haki. Honoring Genius: The Narrative of Craft, Art, Kindness and Justice. Third World Press, 1987. Print.
Brooks, Gwendolyn, Patricia L. Brown, Haki R. Madhubuti and Francis Ward. To Gwen With Love: An Anthology Dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1971. Print.