Gwendolyn Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet whose works included sonnets and ballads as well as blues rhythm in free verse. She also created lyrical poems reflecting African-American life. Her output encompassed more than twenty books in her lifetime, including children’s books.
Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas; her family moved to Chicago during the period known as the Great Migration, when African-Americans moved in great numbers to Northern cities. She started writing and reading classic authors and poets when she was young. Her first poem was published in a children’s magazine when she was 13 years old. Having been expelled from several schools merely because she was African-American, these experiences informed her views on race, and eventually influenced her work as a writer.
The Chicago Defender
As a young adult, Brooks worked as a secretary while trying to get her work published. Some of her first poems were published in an African-American magazine, The Chicago Defender. She also participated in poetry workshops, and in tandem, these helped her writing career get off the ground and gain recognition.
In 1945 she gained fame with A Street In Bronzeville, referring to an area in the Chicago’s South Side, a collection that led to a Guggenheim Fellowship. Annie Allen (1949) earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1950, making her the first African-American to win this award. The Mecca (1968), a long poem, which was nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry.
Poet Laureate of Illinois
In 1968, Brooks was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois. From 1985 to 1986 she was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Her work continued to be recognized for its excellence with prestigious awards, including those from the American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, National Endowment for the Arts, The Shelley Memorial Award, and others.
Her only novel, and teaching career
Maud Martha was Brooks’ only novel. It wasn’t widely read when first published, but has gained respect over the years as a story that speaks to the challenges in women’s lives.
She also taught as part of her career at Columbia College in Chicago, Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Columbia University, and the University of Wisconsin. Throughout her career in the writing field, Gwendolyn Brooks maintained a family life, with a husband (whom she married in 1939) and their two children.
Gwendolyn Brooks used her poetic voice to spread tolerance and understanding the Black experience in America. A prolific writer, she produced hundreds of poems, had twenty books published during her lifetime, and was recognized and honored while alive. Gwendolyn Brooks died of cancer at the age of 83, in 2000.
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6 Classic African-American Authors You Should Know More About
- Annie Allen
- Maud Martha
- Selected Poems
- The Bean Eaters (1960)
- Selected Poems (Another Collection)
- The Disembark
Autobiographies, Biographies, and Literary Criticism
- A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun by Angela Jackson
- Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks – Edited by Gloria Wade Gayles
- The World of Gwendolyn Brooks
- Report From Part One: An Autobiography
- A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by George Kent
- On Gwendolyn Brooks: Reliant Contemplation by Stephen Caldwell Write
- The Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks – an Analysis by David Wheeler
- Maud Martha: A Critical Collection by Bryant and Blakely
Gwendolyn Brooks and family; Milwaukee, 1945
- Library of Congress Online Resources
- The Poetry Foundation
- Modern American Poetry: Gwendolyn Brooks
- Her books on Amazon
- Reader discussion on Goodreads
Articles, News, Etc.
- Gwendolyn Brooks Grave – Lincoln Cemetery, Blue Island, IL
- Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center – Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL
- Gwendolyn Brooks Center – Chicago State University, Chicago, IL
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