Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

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 Great Migration. 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.

Gwendolyn Brooks youngerAs 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, which 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.

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.

Gwendolyn BrooksMaud Martha was Brooks’ only novel. 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 died of cancer at the age of 83, in 2000.

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Quotes by Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks“I felt that I had to write. Even if I had never been published, I knew that I would go on writing, enjoying it and experiencing the challenge.”

“Writing is a delicious agony.”

“I am interested in telling my particular truth as I have seen it.”

“I am a writer perhaps because I am not a talker.”

“Poetry is life distilled.”

“One reason that cats are happier than people is that they have no newspapers.” (In the Mecca, 1968)

“A writer should get as much education as possible, but just going to school is not enough; if it were, all owners of doctorates would be inspired writers.”

“Reading is important – read between the lines. Don’t swallow everything.”

“Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.”

“Does man love Art? Man visits Art, but squirms. Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home, the nice beer ready.”

Gwendolyn Brooks and family; Milwaukee, 1945
Gwendolyn Brooks and family; Milwaukee, 1945

“I wrote about what I saw and heard on the street.”

“I don’t want to say that these poems have to be simple, but I want to clarify my language. I want these poems to be free. I want them to be direct without sacrificing the kinds of music, the picture-making I’ve always been interested in.”

“I think there are things for all of us to do as long as we’re here and we’re healthy.”

 

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