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Quality: Gwendolyn Brooks at 73

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June 7, 1990

breath,
life after seven decades plus three years
is a lot of breathing. seventy three years on this
earth is a lot of taking in and giving out, is a
life of coming from somewhere and for many a bunch
of going nowhere.

how do we celebrate a poet who has created
music with words for over fifty years, who has
showered magic on her people, who has redefined
poetry into a black world exactness
thereby giving the universe an insight into
darkroads?

just say she interprets beauty and wants to
give life, say she is patient with phoniness
and doesn’t mind people calling her gwen or sister.
say she sees the genius in our children, is visionary
about possibilities, sees as clearly as ray charles and
stevie wonder, hears like determined elephants looking
for food. say that her touch is fine wood, her memory
is like an african roadmap detailing adventure and
clarity, yet returning to chicago’s south evans
to record the journey. say her voice is majestic
and magnetic as she speaks in poetry, rhythms, song
and spirited trumpets, say she is dark skinned,
melanin rich, small-boned, hurricane-willed,
with a mind like a tornado redefining the landscape.

life after seven decades plus three years
is a lot of breathing.
gwendolyn, gwen, sister g has
not disappointed our expectations.
in the middle
of her eldership she brings us
vigorous language, memory,
illumination.

she brings breath.

Haki Madhubuti, “Quality: Gwendolyn Brooks at 73” from Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems © 1969 by Haki R. Madhubuti. Used by permission of Third World Press, Chicago, IL.
Source: Heartlove: Wedding and Love Poems (Third World Press, 1998)
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Quality: Gwendolyn Brooks at 73

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  • Born Donald Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas, the poet adopted the Swahili name Haki R. Madhubuti after traveling to Africa in 1974. As he shared in a 2006 interview, he sensed that “a new African name would help me in arriving at a final definition of self.” Haki means “justice” and Madhubuti means “precise, accurate, and dependable.”

    Madhubuti received an MFA from the University of Iowa and served in the army from 1960 to 1963. A member of the Black Arts Movement, Madhubuti has published more than 20 books of poetry, nonfiction, and critical essays, and his work has been widely anthologized. Influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks, Madhubuti writes experimental, free-verse, politically charged poetry with a staccato rhythm. Over the span of his career, his poetry has shifted its focus from the personal to the political. Early work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE),...

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