The Poems

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Gwendolyn Brooks’s Bronzeville Boys and Girls, a collection of thirty-four poems, portrays the lives of children living on the South Side of Chicago. While this area called Bronzeville has been known as an economically challenged and violence-plagued section of town, it was home to Brooks for her entire life, and she portrays its vibrancy with the assistance of illustrator Faith Ringgold, whose bold use of color captures the dynamic nature of the community and of the children who inhabit it. While Brooks’s first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), centered on the adults of the community, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, by concentrating on its youth, offers hope not only to children who live in communities such as Bronzeville but also to all children who are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in the world.

The title of each poem in Brooks’s collection contains the name of one or two children. Some titles describe the children’s conditions or situations, as in “Cynthia in the Snow,” “John, Who Is Poor,” or “Robert Who Is Often a Stranger to Himself.” Most of the titles, however, consist solely of children’s names, a convention that serves not only to emphasize their subjects’ identities as individuals but also to help readers identify with those subjects.

In “Mexie and Bridie,” for example, two girls have a tea party much as any other two children might, with “Pink cakes, and nuts and bon-bons on/ A tiny, shiny tray.” They enjoy the weather and watch the ants and birds. With Mexie in her white dress and Bridie in her brown one, they stand out against the blue sky and green grass, considering themselves proper ladies. The title character of “Val,” on the other hand, is not quite so proper. He does not enjoy the sound of grownups laughing at parties and does not mind when his father chases him away. After all, he says, he would rather be in the basement, outside, or on his bicycle. “Timmy and Tawanda” describes two kids who think it is...

(The entire section is 837 words.)

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The forty poems included in African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks’s first collection for children, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, depict society from the children’s perspective. Many of the poems are brief, rhythmic, and childlike, while a few are told from an omniscient, third-person point of view, such as “Maurice” and “Eppie.” The characters include Robert, who is a stranger to himself; Gertrude, who is touched when she hears Marian Anderson sing; and Marie Lucille, whose process of maturation is like a ticking clock.

The settings, like the characters, are uncomplicated and are presented realistically. The city is confining because the buildings are too close. It is so unlike the country, where one is free to go “A-SPREADING out-of-doors.” The narratives in the poems are easy to follow, especially when the persona describes his or her situation in the first person, as in “Rudolph Is Tired of the City.” As Rudolph says, “These buildings are too close to me./ I’d like to push away./ I’d like to live in the country,/ and spread my arms all day.”

Ideas that children can easily comprehend are depicted in these poems. Some of the verses present clear themes such as that uprooting can be painful, as one learns from “Lyle”:

Tree won’t pack his bag and go.Tree won’t go away.In his first...

(The entire section is 522 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Alexander, Elizabeth. The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks. New York: Library of America, 2005. Selection of poems that are considered some of Brooks’s most important; the introduction provides biographical information about Brooks and critical insight into her work.

Brooks, Gwendolyn. Interview by Joan Kufrin. In Uncommon Women. Piscataway, N.Y.: New Century, 1981. Engaging interview with Brooks in which she discusses her origins and career as a poet as well as her desire to encourage others, particularly young people, to write poetry.

Flynn, Richard. “’The Kindergarten of New Consciousness’: Gwendolyn Brooks and the Social Construction of Childhood.” African American Review 34, no. 3 (2000): 483. Describes the lack of sentimentality in Bronzeville Boys and Girls compared to other mid-1950’s portrayals of childhood.

Hill, Christine M. Gwendolyn Brooks: “Poetry Is Life Distilled.” Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2005. Photo-illustrated biography of the poet; includes a chronology of her life and bibliography of her work.

Mootry, Maria K., and Gary Smith, eds. A Life Distilled: Gwendolyn Brooks, Her Poetry and Fiction. Illini Books ed. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Varied selection of critical essays on Brooks’s poetry and fiction, including an essay titled “Paradise Regained: The Children of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Bronzeville.