To Disembark

Witnessing the ongoing violence affecting young people in her neighborhood—exemplified by this poem, “A Boy Died in My Alley”—Brooks started working with local youth. In 1970, alongside playwright Oscar Brown Jr. and poet-organizer Walter Bradford, her lifelong friend, Brooks began teaching creative writing to members of the Blackstone Rangers, a local gang composed mostly of teenagers and young adults. The Rangers had no interest in reading the classics or learning iambic pentameter, and they challenged Brooks to become more imaginative in her lessons. Brooks rose to the task and soon became not only a teacher but also a mentor and friend to the youths. She would go on to write poems in sympathy and solidarity with the young Rangers’ hopes and struggles.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)
“A Boy Died in My Alley”
In To Disembark (Chicago: Third World Press, 1981)
Purchased on the Edwin V. Erbe Jr. Acquisitions Fund, 2020; PML 198569
Reprinted By Consent of Brooks Permissions