What’s Up With the Title?
At first glance, the title seems innocent enough. "Kitchenette" has a cute-sounding ending—like a dinette or something—and before you know it you're thinking of a sweet old lady sipping tea at a doily-covered table. But the idea of something sweet and innocent is way off for the title of this poem. Nope, there's not a doily in sight.
The history of the kitchenette buildings in Chicago is a sordid one. In the 1920s and 1930s, unofficial segregation and discriminatory housing practices began. African-Americans lived in small one-room apartments with their entire families, and shared kitchens and bathrooms with several other families. They paid high rent and landlords took poor care of the buildings. It was a loud, dirty, and ultimately no-good-very-bad place to live.
So this title, while doing a good job at creating a setting (we can assume the poem will take place inside of one of these Chicago kitchenette buildings around the 1930s), also places the poem in a larger historical context. As modern readers, we can't help but examine the poem against the backdrop of the discrimination that African-Americans were facing at the time, and the Civil Rights Movement that began to percolate about twenty years after the start of the kitchenettes.
Of course, Brooks herself couldn't have known for a fact that such a movement was coming, since she published this poem at the end of World War II (1945), before the Civil Rights Movement hit its full stride. Still, might a poem with a title like this not be in some small way responsible for raising awareness about the plight of African-Americans in the U.S.? In fact, the title tells us from the get-go that we're off to a setting that's not often explored in the public eye. So put your tea set back in its cupboard; this two-word title, though seemingly simple, has tremendous impact on the poem.