Nora shares how her mother's work speaks to the state of the nation in today's society.
CHICAGO, November 5, 2021 – Chicago’s Collaboraction Theatre Company opened season three of Crucial Connections, its Together Network live monthly talk show, on Thursday, October 21, with a marquee guest, Nora Brooks Blakely, daughter of the late Gwendolyn Brooks.
Blakely discussed her mother's legacy as a Pulitzer Prize-winner, Poet Laureate of Illinois, and one of the most influential writers in U.S. history. She also spoke about her mother’s lifelong quest for social justice.
“When we’re talking about changing times and people who changed things,” she said, “it’s important to know just how much impact mama had on the literary scene. She developed ‘verse journalism,’ where it was almost news reports in the poetry, although it was indeed poetry. One example is ‘The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,’” which she proceeded to read from:
“And true, they are hurling spittle, rock,
Garbage and fruit in Little Rock.
And I saw coiling storm a-writhe On bright madonnas. And a scythe Of men harassing brownish girls.
(The bows and barrettes in the curls
And braids declined away from joy.).”
“It’s something that other people continue to do. It’s a very exciting concept in the world of poetry, that you can tell these stories.”
Blakely added, “Mama wasn’t a person who came and visited a black community. She lived in the black community. So, when they came to give her the Pulitzer, actually, the lights were out. Nobody was sure what was going to happen because they hadn’t paid the bill. When they plugged the camera in to take her photo, suddenly, the lights went back on. It was like a miracle. But that experience of not having money. She knew what it was to put newspaper rugs down on the bathroom floor.”
Also on the show, exceptional guest poet Jeronimo Speaks read two original works inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks, “Prisoner,” and “An Old Black Woman, Homeless and Indistinct,” which included the conversation; fueling line, “There’s nothing whacker than living under Wacker.”
“Phenomenal…Jeronimo, you captured it so perfectly; every word you were saying, I was saying ‘yes, yes!’,” responded Blakely. Learn more about Speaks’ poetry at jeronimospeaks.com.
Brooks Blakely founded Brooks Permissions, which manages her mother’s body of work and promotes its continued relevance in the 21st century. She was also a CPS drama educator and Producing Artistic Director and the primary playwright for Chocolate Chips Theater in Chicago for 29 years. Brooks Blakely also previewed her new children’s storybook “Moyenda and The Golden Heart,” set for release on November 30, 2021. For information on her book, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Brooks Permissions, visit gwendolynbrooks.net.
This episode of Crucial Connections was hosted by Anthony Moseley, Artistic Director of Collaboraction, Carla Stillwell, Producer at Collaboraction, and Dr. Marcus Robinson, Together Network host and member of Collaboraction’s board. For season three’s opener, guests also included classical guitarist Marcus Dunleavy and Collaboraction company member and poet Loretta Firekeeper Hawkins.
Collaboraction’s Together Network presents exclusive virtual content like Becoming, a live web show for all people looking to be active anti-racists (first Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. CT), and Crucial Connections, a live, interactive talk show that brings social justice warriors, artists and community residents together for crucial conversations (third Thursday of every month, 8 p.m. CT). Upcoming episodes include:
Thursday, November 18, 8 p.m. CT, live on Zoom.
Crucial Connections: The Thanksgiving Myth and the Ongoing Genocide of our First Nations
Tuesday, December 7, 6 p.m. CT, live on Zoom.
Becoming: Holiday Dinner Peace Strategies (or How to Help Uncle Don See the Light)
Thursday, December 16, 8 p.m. CT, live on Zoom
Crucial Connections: Best of/Year In Review
Both shows are free to watch, but registration is required to receive the private Zoom
invitation. Episodes of Crucial Connections are archived the next day on Collaboraction’s YouTube page, and becoming is not recorded to allow everyone a safe space to talk freely. Learn more about upcoming episodes and register now at collaboraction.org.
Want to spark social change in Chicago and beyond?
Become a CollaborActivist! Join the company’s new member program that supports digital workshops and live programs, helps pay artists equitably, and provides a brave space for diverse voices who create transformative performances on critical social issues. CollaborActivists receive exclusive invitations to monthly social events (virtual and in-person), free or discounted tickets, special swag, and updates on Collaboraction’s community impact. Become a CollaborActivist for as little as $1 a month at collaboraction.org/collaboractivist.
About Collaboraction: a social justice theater company that uses theater to incite social change and grow equity in Chicago Collaboraction, Chicago’s theater for social change, collaborates with a diverse community of Chicagoans, artists, and community activists to create original theatrical and virtual experiences that cultivate dialogue and action around the world’s most critical social issues. Since the company’s founding in 1996, Collaboraction has pushed artistic boundaries working with more than 4,000 artists to bring over 100 productions and events to more than 150,000 unique audience members, and has inspired measurable positive change on social justice in Chicago and beyond. Collaboraction’s work includes Sketchbook, Peace book, Crime Scene, Forgotten Future, and Gender Breakdown.
Collaboraction has been acknowledged for innovation and inclusivity by using theater as a tool for social change with numerous awards including, most recently, a 2020 Foster Innovation Award from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the 2020 Multi-Racial Unity Award from the First Unitarian Church-Chicago, a 2018 Stand For the Arts Award from Comcast & OvationTV, and an Otto Award from New York’s Castillo Theatre.
In August 2021, Collaboraction returned to live performances with The Light, a new ensemble of six high-achieving Chicago youth artists and activists who debuted as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks program. Visit collaboraction.org/the-lIght to see where The Light will perform next. Collaboraction’s Together Network presents exclusive virtual content like Becoming, a live web show for anyone looking to be active anti-racists (first Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. CT), and Crucial Connections, a live, interactive talk show that brings social justice warriors, artists and community residents together for crucial conversations (third Thursday of every month, 8 p.m. CT). Learn more at collaboraction.org/together-network.
Collaboraction continues to use the theater at Kennedy-King College in Englewood as its main stage producing home. Meanwhile, the company has initiated a search for its next home for live performances, community building, and video production, exploring Chicago neighborhoods historically overlooked like Englewood, Austin, and Lawndale.
Collaboraction is supported by The Chicago Community Trust, the National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Humanities, Paul M. Angell Foundation, Marc & Jeanne Malnati Family Foundation, Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation, and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency. Collaboraction is supported by a grant of U.S. Department of Treasury funds through the City of Chicago. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on Crucial Connections are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Treasury or the City of Chicago. For more, visit collaboraction.org.