|Born||Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks
June 7, 1917
Topeka, Kansas, USA
|Died||December 3, 2000
Chicago, Illinois, USA
|Notable work(s)||Annie Allen|
|Notable award(s)||Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1969)|
|Spouse(s)||Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. (m. 1939)|
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet. She won 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.
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims. Her mother was a former school teacher who had chosen that field because she could not afford to attend medical school. (Family lore held that her paternal grandfather had escaped slavery to join Union forces during the American Civil War.) 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.
Her home life was stable and loving, although she encountered racial prejudice in her neighborhood and in schools. She attended Hyde Park High School, the leading white high school in the city, before transferring to the all-black Wendell Phillips. Brooks eventually attended an integrated school, 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 continued to influence her work.
Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of nineteen. 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. 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, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 1967 she attended a writers’ conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness. 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.
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. 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.
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
- 1968, appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois.
- 1985, selected as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an honorary one-year position whose title was renamed the next year to Poet Laureate.
- 1988, inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
- 1989, awarded the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement by the Poetry Society of America.
- 1992, awarded the Aiken Taylor Award by the Sewanee Review
- 1994, chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecturer, one of the highest honors in American literature and the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government.
- 1995, presented with the National Medal of Arts.
- 1995, honored as the first Woman of the Year chosen by the Harvard Black Men's Forum.
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.
- 1995, received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Literature.
- 1970: Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Macomb, Illinois
- 1995: Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois
- 2001: Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Chicago, Illinois
- 2001: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Harvey, Illinois
- 2002: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Oak Park, Illinois
- 2003: Gwendolyn Brooks Illinois State Library, Springfield, Illinois
- 2002: 100 Greatest African Americans.
- 2004 Gwendolyn Brooks Park, 4542 S. Greenwood Ave. Chicago IL 60653
- 2005: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Bolingbrook, Illinois
- 2012: Honored on a United States' postage stamp.
- 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.
- "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1981-1990". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
- 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."
- Kent (1993). pp. 1–2. Missing or empty
- The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, Editor, 2005.
- The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press, 1997; Gwendolyn Brooks biography by Kenny Jackson Williams, pp. 98-99.
- "Literary Images of Chicago", Encyclopedia of Chicago
- "About the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center". Western Illinois University. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
- "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."
- Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
- Schmich, Mary (May 2, 2012). "Poet left her stamp on Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Gwendolyn Brooks|
- Henry Lyman, "Interview: Gwendolyn Brooks Captures Chicago 'Cool'", NPR
- Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks at PoetryFoundation.org
- Audio and Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Poets.org
- Some poems by Brooks, Circle Brotherhood Association, SUNY Buffalo
- Gwendolyn Brooks, Modern American Poetry
- Online guide to the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers, The Bancroft Library
- "The Book Writers" Poem, patterned after Brooks's "The Bean Eaters" and dedicated to Brooks and Haki R. Madhubuti
- Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
- Gwendolyn Brooks at Find a Grave