In studying Gwendolyn Brooks’ life, I was struck by the closeness, reverence and mutual influence that existed between the renowned poet and her protege’, Haki Madhubuti. However, I wondered what were the implications of Brooks aligning herself with primarily male cohorts like Madhubuti and others. She said that her relationships developed through her alignment with The Black Arts Movement, but nonetheless, those that she worked closest with were all men. After careful examination of her life story, it appears that her sheltered childhood, insatiable desire for acceptance by her own people, and the political pressures and expectations of the time period, all accounted for the exceptional closeness that she shared with Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee, prior to his name change in 1974).
Despite Gwendolyn Brooks being his elder, Madhubuti was not reserved in his authoritative critical essays on her poetry. Madhubuti’s praise and approval was reserved only for those of Brooks’ poems that he felt contained the right political message and superb technique. It appears as if the pro-black, more revolutionary pieces were usually the ones that he felt met his standards. “Way-out Morgan” was gathering guns into a small room in an apartment tenement, as he contemplates violent revolution in an effort to avenge his sister’s rape and the plight of the entire black race. “Way-out Morgan/ predicts the Day of Debt-pay shall begin/ the Day of Demon-diamond,/ of blood in mouths and body-mouths,/ of flesh-rip in the Forum of Justice at last!” (13). For Madhubuti, the gift of being a black poet lie in the power of the words, to move the people and ignite change. Her poem “Malcolm X” was the “ultimate in manhood,” Haki says, citing the lines “We gasped. We saw the maleness./ The maleness raking out and making guttural the air/ and pushing us to walls” (14). Madhubuti’s mention of The Tiger who Wore White Gloves, along with the serious content, despite it being a children’s book, along with the year it was published, lead me to believe that his influence extended even into her work for children. Embracing blackness, and rejecting whiteness was the message of the book. This was written in 1974, in the same year that Don L. Lee changed his name to Haki Madhubuti, and that she reconciled with her husband, and visits Africa for the second time, and England, with Henry (Rhynes, 100).
From the day Gwendolyn Brooks met Don L. Lee, to her death 33 years later, her work was tightly shaped and inspired by his dedication to black people and black unity. She eloquently expresses her high regard and faith in him in “The Good Man”: “Force our poor sense into your logics, lend superlatives and prudence: to extend our judgement-through the terse and diesel day; to singe, smite, beguile our own bewilderments away.” That is what he did for her, through her work. To strip away any misconceptions about her identity, and who she belonged to. She belonged to everyone. In the collective sense, she was as much his daughter as he was her son, and he as much her father as she was his mother. Their relationship transcended gender, age, and time. After her death Haki wrote “Her attachment to my bones remained nourishing, a friendly daily dose of calcium that allowed the joints in my writing hand to continue on their mission” (Madhubuti, 58). He was her connection to the things that mattered most: her work, her people, and her desire to be accepted, even by the tavern goers.
Gayles, Gloria Wade. Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks. University Press of Mississippi
Jackson, 2003. Print.
Kent, George E. A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, The University Press of Kentucky, 1990.
Madhubuti, Haki R. Honoring Genius: The Narrative of Craft, Art, Kindness and Justice. Third World Press, 1987. Print.
Rhynes, Martha E. Gwendolyn Brooks: Poet from Chicago. Greensboro, NC: Morgan Reynolds Pub., 2003. Print.