|Born||Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks
June 7, 1917
Topeka, Kansas, US
|Died||December 3, 2000
Chicago, Illinois, US
|Notable works||A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen, Winnie|
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1950)
Robert Frost Medal (1989)
|Spouse||Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. (m. 1939)|
|Children||Henry Blakely, III, and Nora Blakely|
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet, author, and teacher. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. She won many awards for her work and influence, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, for Annie Allen making her the first African American to receive that award.
Throughout her career Brooks received many more honors. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position held until her death, and what is now the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for the 1985–86 term .
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, and died on December 3, 2000 in Chicago, IL. She was the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah (Wims) Brooks. Her father was a janitor for a music company who had hoped to pursue a career as a doctor but sacrificed that aspiration to get married and raise a family. Her mother was a school teacher as well as a concert pianist trained in classical music. Family lore held that her paternal grandfather had escaped slavery to join the Union forces during the American Civil War.
When Brooks was six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago during the Great Migration; from then on, Chicago remained her home. According to biographer Kenny Jackson Williams, Brooks first attended a prestigious integrated high school in the city with a predominantly white student body, Hyde Park High School, transferred to the all-black Wendell Phillips High School, and then moved to the integrated Englewood High School. After completing high school, she graduated in 1936 from Wilson Junior College, now known as Kennedy-King College. Due to the social dynamics of the various schools, in conjunction with time period in which she attended them, Brooks faced racial injustice that over time contributed to her understanding of the prejudice and bias in established systems and dominant institutions in her own surroundings as well as ever relevant mindset of the country.
After these early educational experiences, Brooks never pursued a four-year degree because she knew she wanted to be a writer and considered it unnecessary. "I am not a scholar," she later said. "I'm just a writer who loves to write and will always write." She worked as a typist to support herself while she pursued her career.
She would closely identify with Chicago for the rest of her life. In a 1994 interview, she remarked on this,
"(L)iving in the city, I wrote differently than I would have if I had been raised in Topeka, KS...I am an organic Chicagoan. Living there has given me a multiplicity of characters to aspire for. I hope to live there the rest of my days. That's my headquarters.
Brooks published her first poem, "Eventide", in a children's magazine, American Childhood, when she was 13 years old. By the age of sixteen she had already written and published approximately seventy-five poems. She received commendations on her poetic work and encouragement from James Weldon Johnson and later, Langston Hughes, both well-known writers with whom she kept communication with and whose readings she attended in Chicago. 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 inner city life that Brooks knew well. She said, "I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material."
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. Stark offered writing workshops to African-Americans on Chicago's South Side, which Brooks attended. It was here she gained momentum in finding her voice and a deeper knowledge of the techniques of her predecessors. Renowned poet Langston Hughes stopped by the workshop and heard Brooks read "The Ballad of Pearl May Lee." Brooks continued to work diligently at her writing and growing the community of artists and writers around her as her poetry began to be taken more seriously. She and her husband frequently threw parties at their apartment at 623 E. 63rd Street and it was in the kitchenette of that apartment that Brooks hosted a party for her friend and mentor Langston Hughes. Once he unexpectedly dropped in and famously shared a meal of mustard greens, ham hocks, and candied sweet potatoes with Brooks and her husband Henry Blakely.
Brooks' published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), with Harper and Row, after strong show of support to the publisher from author Richard Wright. He said to the editors who solicited his opinion on Brooks' work:
"There is no self-pity here, not a striving for effects. She takes hold of reality as it is and renders it faithfully.... She easily catches the pathos of petty destinies; the whimper of the wounded; the tiny accidents that plague the lives of the desperately poor, and the problem of color prejudice among Negroes."
The book earned instant critical acclaim for its authentic and textured portraits of life in Bronzeville. Brooks later said it was a glowing review by Paul Engle in the Chicago Tribune that "initiated My Reputation." Engle stated that Brooks' poems were no more "Negro poetry" than Robert Frost's work was "white poetry." Brooks received her first Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946 and was included as one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine.
Brooks' second book of poetry, Annie Allen (1949), focused on the life and experiences of a young Black girl as she grew into womanhood in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. The book was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry; she also was awarded Poetry magazine's Eunice Tietjens Prize.
In 1953, Brooks published her first and only narrative book, a novella titled Maud Martha, which in a series of thirty-four small vignettes, follows the life of a black woman named Maud Martha in detail as she moved about life from childhood to adulthood. It tells the story of "a woman with doubts about herself and where and how she fits into the world. Maud's concern is not so much that she is inferior but that she is perceived as being ugly," states author Harry B. Shaw in his book, Gwendolyn Brooks. Maud suffers prejudice and discrimination not only from white individuals but also from black individuals who have lighter skin tones than hers, something that is direct reference to Brooks' personal experience. Eventually, Maud stands up for herself by turning her back on a patronizing and racist store clerk. "The book is ... about the triumph of the lowly," Shaw comments.
In 1967, the year of Hughes' death, Brooks attended the Second Black Writers' Conference at Nashville's Fisk University. Here, according to one version of events, she met activists and artists such as Imamu Amiri Baraka, Don L. Lee and others who exposed her to new black cultural nationalism. Recent studies argue that she had been involved in leftist politics in Chicago for many years and, under the pressures of McCarthyism, adopted a black nationalist posture as a means of distancing herself from her prior political connections. Brooks' experience at the conference inspired many of her subsequent literary activities. She taught creative writing to some of Chicago's Blackstone Rangers, otherwise a violent criminal gang. In 1968 she published one of her most famous poems, In the Mecca, a long poem about a mother's search for her lost child in a Chicago apartment building. The poem was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry.
Her autobiographical Report From Part One, including reminiscences, interviews, photographs and vignettes, came out in 1972, and Report From Part Two was published in 1995, when she was almost 80.
Brooks said her first teaching experience was at the University of Chicago when she was invited by author Frank London Brown to teach a course in American literature. It was the beginning of her lifelong commitment to sharing poetry and teaching writing.
Brooks taught extensively around the country and held posts at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, City College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
On May 1, 1996, Brooks returned to her birthplace of Topeka, Kansas. She gave the keynote speech for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council's "Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction."
The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) acquired Brooks' archives from her daughter Nora. In addition, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has a collection of her personal papers, especially from 1950 to 1989.
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, 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.
In the year 1990, her works were given a permanent home when Chicago State University established the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing on campus. On her eightieth birthday, in 1997, Brooks was honored with tributes from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Gwendolyn Brooks died of cancer at her Chicago home on December 3, 2000.
Honors and legacy
- 1946, Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry
- 1946, American Academy of Arts & Letters Award
- 1950, Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
- 1968, appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois, a position she held until her death in 2000
- 1976, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America
- 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, recipient, Life Time Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
- 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.
- 1994, Recipient of the National Book Foundations's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
- 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
- 1995, received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Literature
- 1997, awarded the Order of Lincoln award from The Lincoln Academy of Illinois, the highest honor granted by the State of Illinois
- 1970: "For Sadie and Maud" by Eleanor Holmes Norton, included in Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement (1970), quotes all of Brooks' poem "Sadie and Maud"
- 1970: Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois
- 1995: Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois
- 1990: Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing, Chicago State University
- 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 named by the Chicago Park District, 4542 S. Greenwood Ave. Chicago IL 60653
- 2005: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Bolingbrook, Illinois
- 2012: Honored on a United States' postage stamp.
- 2017–18: "Our Miss Brooks @ 100" (OMB100) is a celebration of the life of Brooks (born June 7, 1917), which runs through June 17, 2018. The opening ceremony on February 2, 2017 at the Art Institute of Chicago featured readings and discussions of Brooks' influence by Pulitzer Prize winning poets Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gregory Pardlo, Tracy K. Smith, and Natasha Trethewey.
- African American literature
- Chicago Literature
- List of African American firsts
- List of Poets
- List of Poets from the United States
- Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
- Banks, Margot Harper (2012). Religious allusion in the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks. McFarland & Co. p. 3. ISBN 9780786449392.
- "Illinois Poet Laureate". Retrieved 6 March 2015.
- "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1981–1990". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
- Mel Watkins (December 4, 2000). "Gwendolyn Brooks, Whose Poetry Told of Being Black in America, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved September 13, 2012.
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). A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. pp. 1–2.
- Williams, Kenny Jackson (2001). "Brooks, Gwendolyn". In Andrews, William L.; Foster, Frances Smith; Harris, Trudier. The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Oxford University Press. p. 47. ISBN 9780198031758. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- Watkins, Mel (December 5, 2000). "New York Times". Gwendolyn Brooks, 83, Passionate Poet, Dies. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
- Hawkins, B. Denise. "1994 Gwendolyn Brooks Interview". James Madison University Furious Flower Poetry Center. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
- Margaret Busby, "Gwendolyn Brooks — Poet who called out to black people everywhere", The Guardian, December 7, 2000.
- 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 March 15, 2012.
- The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, Editor, 2005.
- See Mary Helen Washington, "The Other Blacklist," Columbia University Press, 2014, chapter 4, "When Gwendolyn Brooks wore Red."
- 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. 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".
- Williams, John (October 17, 2013). "University of Illinois Acquires Gwendolyn Brooks Archives". The New York Times.
- "Finding Aid to the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers, 1917-2000, bulk 1950-1989". Online Archive of California. Retrieved 23 August 2014.
- 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.
- "Gwendolyn Brooks". Answers.com. Retrieved 26 January 2014.
- "Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970)". [WorldCat.org]. Retrieved May 8, 2015.
- Rosalyn Baxandall; Linda Gordon (17 May 2001). Dear Sisters: Dispatches From The Women's Liberation Movement. Basic Books. pp. 213, 214–. ISBN 978-0-7867-3133-6.
- "About the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center". Western Illinois University. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
- Gwenddolyn Brooks Center, Chicago State University.
- "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.
- Schoenberg, Nara (February 4, 2016). "Poets exalt a potent South Side voice as city celebrates Gwendolyn Brooks' birth". Chicago Tribune. p. Section 1, Page 11.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Gwendolyn Brooks|
- Gwendolyn Brooks Online Resources at the Library of Congress
- Gwendolyn Brooks Illinois Poet Laureate, State of Illinois
- 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