(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The efficiency apartment described in “Kitchenette Building,” the first poem in A Street in Bronzeville, recalls the apartments in which Brooks and her husband lived prior to the early 1950’s, when they purchased a house. Bronzeville, so named by the Chicago Defender, was a black ghetto consisting of forty square blocks on the South Side of the city. With its cross-section of people and lifestyles, Bronzeville provided Brooks with a wealth of subject material.

Written in an irregular rhyme scheme that moves toward pentameter, “Kitchenette Building” bears stylistic traces of the work of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and John Donne, while its message is reminiscent of that in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Or, Life in the Woods (1854), which Brooks had read and admired. Discussing the need for simplicity, Thoreau states that “our life is frittered away by detail.” In a similar vein of thought, the narrator of the poem muses about whether dreams and aspirations can compete with the mundane details of life—onion fumes, fried potatoes, garbage rotting in the hall—especially in a cramped ghetto dwelling. She does not muse for long, however; another tenant has just vacated the communal bathroom, so she must scurry down the hall to use what is left of the hot water before someone else beats her to it. Practicality must supersede dreams.

The first line in “Kitchenette Building” suggests the wryness of Eliot:...

(The entire section is 484 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brooks, Gwendolyn. Report from Part One. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1972.

Bryant, Jacqueline, ed. Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Maud Martha”: A Critical Collection. Chicago: Third World Press, 2002.

Kent, George E. A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

Lanker, Brian. I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1989.

Madhubuti, Haki R., ed. Say That the River Turns: The Impact of Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago: Third World Press, 1987.

Melhem, D. H. Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987.

Mootry, Maria K., and Gary Smith, eds. A Life Distilled: Gwendolyn Brooks, Her Poetry and Fiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Washington, Mary Helen. “Plain, Black, and Decently Wild: The Heroic Possibilities of Maud Martha.” In The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development, edited by Elizabeth Abel, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1983.

Wright, Stephen Caldwell, ed. On Gwendolyn Brooks: Reliant Conversation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.