The Role of Violence in Recent Poems
of Gwendolyn Brooks

A statement on the cover of Gwendolyn Brooks's Riot ( 1970) explains an important fact about the origin of the poems it contains:

Riot is a poem in three parts, only one of which part has appeared in print before. It arises from the disturbances in Chicago after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.

Thematically, Riot is an extension of In the Mecca, published two years earlier. Both collections attempt to portray the causes and significance of violence; and Riot unequivocally portrays the obtuseness of whites as a critical factor. Two significant ideas carried over from In the Mecca are the portrayal of blackness as the inspirational source of ideals and values and the portrayal of love as the central emotional impulse for the actions necessary to bring about change in the conditions of blacks and the attitude of whites.

Although I do not believe Stephen Henderson was alluding directly to Riot, it is interesting to observe how closely he resembles Brooks in an essay analyzing black writers. He believes the "distinct elements" in black writers

... are (1) the rejection of white middle-class cultural values and (2) the affirmation of black selfhood, or, depending on the

From Studies in Black Literature 5, no. 2 (Summer 1974). © 1974 Raman K. Singh.


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