Gwendolyn Brooks

Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry
Birthplace: Topeka, KS
Education: Wilson Junior College

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917, the granddaughter of a runaway slave, and grew up in the slums of Chicago. She became fascinated at an early age by words and the sounds they make, and at the age of seven, she decided to become a poet. When she was 13, her first poem was published in a national magazine. In high school she met Langston Hughes, who encouraged her literary ambitions. At 17, Brooks' poems began being published regularly in the Chicago Defender, an African-American Newspaper.

At the age of 24, Brooks enrolled in a poetry workshop. There she read many modern poets and developed the precise style for which she would become famous. In 1943, she began to receive awards and recognition on a national level. In 1946, she became a Guggenheim fellow and was able to write full time. Brooks' first collection of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, was published in 1945. Her second collection, Annie Allen, was published in 1949, and received the Pulitzer Prize. Gwendolyn Brooks, at age 33, was the first African-American poet to be so honored. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Brooks continued to publish collections of poetry. She also wrote a novel, Maud Martha, in 1953.

In 1967, she attended a conference of black writers that changed her life. Prior to the conference Brooks had thought of herself as a poet first and a black person second. But the passion of the young writers made her reassess her priorities. In the works that followed, Brooks began to focus more on writing for African-American people than writing about them for white audiences.

In 1968, Brooks was made the Poet Laureate of Illinois, and in 1980 she was honored at the White House by President Jimmy Carter. Brooks died in December of 2000.

Related Resources

Selected Works
A Street In Bronzeville (1945)
Annie Allen (1949)
Maud Martha (1953)
Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956)
Selected Poems (1963)
We Real Cool (1966)
The Wall. (1967)
Family Picutres. (1970)
Aloneness (1971)
The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (1971)
Black Steel: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (1971)
A Broadside Treasury (1971)
The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves, or What You Really Are, You Really Are (1974)
To Disembark (1981)
Mayor Harold Washington and Chicago, the I Will City (1983)
Blacks (1987)
Children Coming Home (1988)
Gottschalk and the Grande Tarantelle (1988)

Black History Month Return to the Encyclopedia
of Prominent African Americans

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