• Feb 7, 2015

Dramaturgy: On Kitchenettes and Throbbing Machines

Despite the lingering privation of the Great Depression—and partially in response to it—the South Side of Chicago in the 1930s and ‘40s witnessed a dazzling outpouring of innovative work from Black musicians, dancers, poets, painters, journalists, photographers and more. This wave of intense artistic activity, urban and future-oriented, is considered by scholars to be the heir to (and equal of) the Harlem Renaissance; its chief writers were Native Son novelist Richard Wright and poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. Both wrote poetry honoring the spirit and strength of Black people, while lamenting the bleak economic and legal inequalities that constantly wore away at that strength. — Laura A. Bruckner

Gwendolyn Brooks, 
“kitchenette building” (1945)

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan, 
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong 
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”
But could a dream send up through onion fumes 
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes 
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall, 
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms 

Even if we were willing to let it in, 
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean, 
Anticipate a message, let it begin? 

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute! 
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now, 
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it. 


Richard Wright,
“I Have Seen Black Hands” (1934)
I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and 
   millions of them—

They were tired and awkward and calloused and grim
   and covered with hangnails,

And they were caught in the fast-moving belts of 
   machines and snagged and smashed and crushed,

And they jerked up and down at the throbbing machines 
   massing taller and taller the heaps of 
   gold in the banks of the bosses,

And they piled higher and higher the steel, iron, 
   the lumber, wheat, rye, the oats, corn, the cotton, the 
   wool, the oil, the coal, the meat, the fruit, the glass, 
   and the stone until there was too much to be used,

And they grabbed guns and slung them on their 
   shoulders and marched and groped in trenches and 
   fought and killed and conquered nations who were
   customers for the goods black hands had made.

And again black hands stacked goods higher and higher 
   until there was too much to be used,

And then the black hands held trembling at the factory 
   gates the dreaded lay-off slip,

And the black hands hung idle and swung empty and 
   grew soft and got weak and bony from 
   unemployment and starvation,

And they grew nervous and sweaty, and opened and 
   shut in anguish and doubt and hesitation and