Memories of blue in Vancouver

Photo by Julia Miller

new production of the life of famed poet and activist Gwendolyn Brooks will be performed in a variety of media.

It’s a live biopic, a music video, a poetry performance, all mixed up into one giant onstage show,” says Sarah Fornace, co-artistic director of No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks.

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks will be performed at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia, on Feb. 24.

Connection to community

After being asked to create a live cinematic piece around Gwendolyn Brooks as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, the performance collective, design studio and film and video production company Manual Cinema reached out to poets and scholars. They found Eve L. Ewing and Nate Marshall, who have a deep connection to Gwendolyn Brooks’ writing and legacy, says Fornace.

“This really is a dream team of Chicago based artists who all have a connection to poetry,” says Fornace, who helped found Manual Cinema in Chicago, USA with four other members in 2010. “The performance, written by Ewing and Marshall, weaves Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry, such as ‘Eventide’, the first poem that she wrote as a child and was published, into the story of her life”.

Fornace also explains that Ewing and Marshall not only wrote the script but also pointed out specific places in Chicago important to the story so that an accurate vision of the city could be recreated for the show.

No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks features a six-piece live band and an original score from Jamila Woods and Ayanna Woods.

“We have an extraordinary group of artists on stage,” says Fornace.

Life and times of Gwendolyn Brooks

Manual Camera creates a live cinematic piece in honour of Gwendolyn Brooks. | Photo by Julia Miller

She led such an extraordinary life by being an artist. She was part of this community of black intellectuals and artists that all did extraordinary things,” Fornace comments.

Born and raised in Chicago, Brooks (1917–2000) was an artist and a mentor who won a Pulitzer Prize for her poem “Annie Allen.” She became the first black woman to become a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. Although Fornace admits she wasn’t too familiar with the famed poet before doing the show, upon rereading Brooks’ work, Fornace saw its value.

“Gwendolyn Brooks was incredibly important to the world and United States,” Fornace says.

But Brooks was also significant locally in Chicago, Fornace points out. As soon as the show was announced people started making remarks on how Gwendolyn Brooks impacted their lives.

Locals remembered how Brooks came to their graduation or how she gave out prize money for winning a poetry contest in their community.

“Even after she won the Pulitzer she was still supporting a lot of the local youth and schools around Chicago,” says Fornace.

Promises of inspiration

Manual Cinema combines shadow puppetry, overhead projectors, sound design, actors and live music to tell a multimedia story of Brooks.

“It’s an incredible show with a beautiful and emotional storyline,” says Fornace of No Blue Memories.

“I think the audience will be on their feet during sections of it and will cry during sections of it,” says Fornace.

Fornace hopes after seeing the show, audiences will be inspired to go back and read her poetry as well.

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