Eve Ewing, Nate Marshall, and Jamila Woods create a moving tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks is a name synonymous with Chicago, so it is only fitting that three of the city’s brightest literary stars worked together to create a play that bottles up some of her brilliance and exposes a new generation to her timeless wonders. Eve Ewing, Nate Marshall, and Jamila Woods spearhead the production, with Ewing and Marshall writing the manuscript and Woods and her sister Ayanna handling the composing and performance of the original score for Manual Cinema’s production of No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks.
Coinciding with the centennial anniversary of Gwendolyn Brooks’ birthday, the play is a capstone commemorating both the life and work of a major American literary giant in the city where she found both fame and a voice. It opens up fittingly telling the story of Brooks’ beginnings as a poet and the first poem she wrote about a crayon at the age of 7. Act two centers around her exodus to Chicago and her radicalization after discovering the Black Arts movement at a conference at Fisk University. Act three shows Gwendolyn Brooks as a generous teacher, visiting schools and writing prisoners letters.
Manual Cinema rarely uses spoken words, usually content to use projectors like the old time silent films of the 1920’s but because words, written and otherwise are so important to the subject, but this time they chose to make an exception. Elizabeth Burke-Dain, media and marketing director of Poetry Foundation which funded the project, says of the play and of Ewing and Marshall:
“I see this as a love letter from Gwendolyn Brooks hailing beyond the grave… I think in some ways, she’s speaking through them. Her legacy speaks through them… They are the Gwendolyn Brooks of today.”
Ewing says of the project’s importance:
“We don’t have a Gwendolyn Brooks major motion picture…We don’t have a ‘Hamilton’ for Gwendolyn Brooks. So I think for us, this is opening a conversation. We’re trying to make an argument about the arc of her life and also trying to showcase some aspects of her life that maybe people are not aware of… I continue to see scholarship, especially from white literary analysts, that engages with the first half of her career and doesn’t ever really engage with anything from 1967 onward. Part of what we’re also trying to show is the wingspan of this amazing person and her vision.”
See Also: Poetry Foundation created this cool video about Gwendolyn Brooks