In honor of Gwendolyn Brooks’s centennial, we’re sharing this archival audio from a reading featuring Brooks and Lucille Clifton at the Guggenheim Museum on May 3, 1983. Available online for the first time ever, this audio includes Brooks reading poems such as “We Real Cool,” “when you have forgotten Sunday: the love story,” and “Ballad of Pearl May Lee,” among others, and discussing riots, relationships, the inspiration behind the poems, and her life in Chicago. “Tell the truth as you know it. Tell your truth,” Brooks says in her opening remarks, quoting her Young Poet’s Primer, before diving into her poems.
In her introduction to the reading, poet Jane Flanders says, “The world that Brooks so memorably portrays exists mainly in kitchenette buildings, pool halls, alleys, and backyards. If poverty and injustice are facts there, so are joy and pride and style. … In the varied rhythms of ballad, jazz, blank verse, and street talk, Brooks notes and celebrates what is essential in life, in the lives of all of us.”