Gwendolyn Brooks

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Gwendolyn Brooks
Born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks
(1917-06-07)June 7, 1917
Topeka, Kansas, USA
Died December 3, 2000(2000-12-03) (aged 83)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Occupation Poet
Period 1930–2000
Notable works Annie Allen
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1950)
Robert Frost Medal (1989)
Spouse Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. (m. 1939)

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an African-American poet. She was the first African American to win a Pulitzer prize winning the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 and was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.[1][2]


Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, and died on December 3, 2000. The first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims. Her mother was a school teacher and chose the field because she could not afford to attend medical school. (Family lore held that her paternal grandfather had escaped slavery to join the Union forces during the American Civil War.)[3] When Brooks was six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois during the Great Migration; from then on, Chicago was her hometown. She went by the nickname "Gwendie" among her close friends.

According to biographer Kenny Jackson Williams:

Brooks attended Hyde Park High School, the leading white high school in the city, but transferred to the all-black Wendell Phillips, then to the integrated Englewood High School. In 1936 she graduated from Wilson Junior College. These four schools gave her a perspective on racial dynamics in the city that continue[d] to influence her work.[4]




Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of thirteen. By the time she was sixteen, she had compiled a portfolio of around 75 published poems. At seventeen, she started submitting her work to "Lights and Shadows", the poetry column of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper. Her poems, many published while she attended Wilson Junior College, ranged in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to poems using blues rhythms in free verse. Her characters were often drawn from the poor of the inner city. After failing to obtain a position with the Chicago Defender, Brooks took a series of secretarial jobs.

By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. A particularly influential one was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark, an affluent white woman with a strong literary background. The group dynamic of Stark's workshop, all of whose participants were African American, energized Brooks. Her poetry began to be taken seriously.[5] In 1943 she received an award for poetry from the Midwestern Writers' Conference.

Brooks' first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), published by Harper and Row, earned instant critical acclaim. She received her first Guggenheim Fellowship and was included as one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine. With her second book of poetry, Annie Allen (1950), she became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; she also was awarded Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize.

After President John F. Kennedy invited Brooks to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, she began a second career teaching creative writing. She taught at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, City College of New York,[6] and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 1967 she attended a writers’ conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness.[7] This rediscovery is reflected in her work In The Mecca (1968), a long poem about a mother searching for her lost child in a Chicago apartment building. In The Mecca was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry.

On May 1, 1996, Brooks returned to her birthplace of Topeka, Kansas. She was invited as the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council's "Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction." A ceremony was held in her honor at a local park at 37th and Topeka Boulevard.

The The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) acquired Brooks' archives from her daughter Nora.[8] In addition, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has a collection of her personal papers, especially from 1950 to 1989.[9][10]

Personal life[edit]

In 1939 Brooks married Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. They had two children: Henry Lowington Blakely III, born on October 10, 1940; and Nora Blakely, born in 1951.

From mid-1961 to late-1964, Henry III served in the U.S. Marine Corps, first at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and then at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. During this time, Brooks mentored his fiancée, Kathleen Hardiman, today known as anthropologist Kathleen Rand Reed, in writing poetry. Upon his return, Blakely and Hardiman married in 1965.[11] Brooks had so enjoyed the mentoring relationship that she began to engage more frequently in that role with the new generation of young black poets.[11]

Brooks died of cancer at the age of 83 on December 3, 2000, at her home on Chicago's South Side.[2] She is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois.


Born in Alabama / Bred in Illinois. He was nothing but a / Plain black boy. . . .

Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot. / Nothing but a plain black boy


Excerpted from a much longer poem, "Of De Witt Williams on His Way to Lincoln Cemetery" (1946), about the joyful, anonymous, seedy, short life of a Chicago resident going to his grave through the streets of Bronzeville.

Honors and legacy[edit]

Sara S. Miller's 1994 Bronze Portrait Bust Of Gwendolyn Brooks

Other awards she received included the Shelley Memorial Award, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Brooks also received more than seventy-five honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1981–1990". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19. 
  2. ^ a b Mel Watkins (author) (December 4, 2000). "Gwendolyn Brooks, Whose Poetry Told of Being Black in America, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-09-13. Gwendolyn Brooks, who illuminated the black experience in America in poems that spanned most of the 20th century, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, died yesterday at her home in Chicago. She was 83. 
  3. ^ Kent (1993). A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. pp. 1–2. 
  4. ^ Williams, Kenny Jackson (2001). "Brooks, Gwendolyn". In Andrews, William L.; Foster, Frances Smith; Harris, Trudier. The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Oxford UP. p. 47. ISBN 9780198031758. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  5. ^ The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, Editor, 2005.
  6. ^ Note: Although her biographer Kenny Jackson Williams lists this as Clay College of New York, there is otherwise no evidence that such a college ever existed. But other biographies show that Brooks did teach at City College of New York, and it is likely that "Clay College" is simply a typo for "City College".
  7. ^ The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press, 1997; Gwendolyn Brooks biography by Kenny Jackson Williams, pp. 98–99.
  8. ^ Williams, John (October 17, 2013). "University of Illinois Acquires Gwendolyn Brooks Archives". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "Finding Aid to the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers, 1917-2000, bulk 1950-1989". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  10. ^ Maclay, Kathleen (11 Jan 2001). "Personal papers of Pulitzer-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks join archives at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library". Campus News (UC Berkeley). Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Kent, George E. (1993). A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 54–55, 184. ISBN 0-8131-0827-6. Retrieved 2012-03-15. 
  12. ^ "Literary Images of Chicago", Encyclopedia of Chicago
  13. ^ "Gwendolyn Brooks". Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "About the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center". Western Illinois University. Retrieved March 29, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Oak Park D97: History of Brooks Middle School". Retrieved 2012-03-15. Named for: Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Originally built in 1893 as South or Washington Blvd School and later known as Emerson Junior High School. The new building opened in 2002. The Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School student population included 7th and 8th grade students. The school was renamed Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in September of 2002 with the inclusion of 6th grade children and the opening of a new facility. Our first 6th grade class graduated 8th grade at the end of the 2004–05 school year. 
  16. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  17. ^ Schmich, Mary (May 2, 2012). "Poet left her stamp on Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 

External links[edit]