Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American writer.

She was born in Topeka, Kansas, but her family moved to Chicago when she was six weeks old. Brooks would live there of her whole life.

Her father was a janitor and her mother a schoolteacher, and both encouraged her love for reading and writing. Brooks began writing at an early age. At 13, she published her first poem, “Eventide”, in a children’s magazine, American Childhood. At 17, she started contributing to “Lights and Shadows,” the poetry column of The Chicago Defender.

After graduating from high school, in 1935, Brooks attended junior college and graduated in 1936 from a two-year program at Wilson Junior College. She worked as a typist to support herself, while taking part in various poetry workshops. She also joined the Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Chicago, where she met and fell in love with Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. They married in 1939, and had two children.

In 1944, two of her poems were published in Poetry magazine. In 1945, she published her poetry collection, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), which was an instant success. Richard Wright, Paul Engle, and Langston Hughes were among the authors who praised her work. In 1946, Brooks received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Three years later, in 1949, she published her second book, Annie Allen (1949), which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950 – she was the first African American to receive a Pulitzer.

In 1953, Brooks published her novella Maud Martha (1953), her only work of prose. Her poetry became increasingly political, and she took active part in the civil rights movement. In 1968, Brooks published one of her most famous poetry books, In the Mecca (1968), which was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry. In 1976, she became the first African-American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1985, Brooks was the first black woman appointed as Poet Laureate, a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress for that year. In 1989, she was awarded the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Society of America.

Brooks worked as a lecturer at various institutions, such as the University of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Columbia University, and the City College of New York, among others. She was the author of more than twenty books of poetry.

Her husband died in 1996. Gwendolyn Brooks died of cancer, a few years later, at the age of 83, on December 3, 2000.

Books

Poetry

  • A Street in Bronzeville, 1945
  • Annie Allen, 1949
  • Maud Martha, 1953
  • Bronzeville Boys and Girls, 1956
  • The Bean Eaters, 1960
  • Selected Poems, 1963
  • We Real Cool, 1966
  • The Wall, 1967
  • In the Mecca, 1968
  • For Illinois 1968: A Sesquicentennial Poem, 1968
  • Riot, 1969
  • Family Pictures, 1970
  • Aloneness, 1971
  • The World of Gwendolyn Brooks, 1971
  • Aurora, 1972
  • Beckonings, 1975
  • To Disembark, 1981
  • Primer for Blacks, 1981
  • Black Love, 1982
  • Mayor Harold Washington; and, Chicago, the I Will City, 1983
  • The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems, 1986
  • Blacks, 1987
  • Winnie, 1988
  • Children Coming Home, 1991
  • In Montgomery, and Other Poems, 2003
  • The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. Elizabeth Alexander, 2005
    • Three poems: Mother (1945) / The crazy woman (1960) / The Second Sermon on the Warpland (1968)

Prose

Nonfiction

  • Report from Part One: An Autobiography, 1972
  • Report from Part Two, 1996

About her

  • Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice, by D. H. Melhem (1987)
  • Invented Lives: Narratives of Black Women 1860-1960, by Mary Helen Washington (1989)
  • A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, by George E. Kent (1993)
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, by Harold Bloom (2000)
  • Of Women, Poetry, and Power: Strategies of Address in Dickinson, Miles, Brooks, Lorde, and Angelou, by Zofia Burr (2002)
  • Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks, ed. Gloria Wade Gayles (2003)
  • Gwendolyn Brooks: Poet from Chicago, by Martha E. Rhynes (2003)
  • A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks, by Angela Jackson (2017)

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