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.)