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 the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, for Annie Allen, making her the first African American to receive the Pulitzer.
Throughout her prolific writing career, Brooks received many more honors. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position she held until her death, and what is now the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for the 1985–86 term. In 1976, she became the first African-American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas and at six-weeks-old was taken to Chicago, where she lived the rest of her life. Her parents, especially her mother encouraged her poetry writing. She began submitting poems to various publications, as a teenager. After graduating high school during the Great Depression, she took a two-year junior college program, worked as a typist, married, and had children. Continuing to write and submit her work, she finally found substantial outlets for her poetry. This recognition of her work also led her to lecturing and teaching aspiring writers. Being the winner of multiple awards for her writing, several schools and institutions have been named in her honor.
|Born||Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks|
June 7, 1917
Topeka, Kansas, U.S.
|Died||December 3, 2000 (aged 83)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Notable works||A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen, Winnie|
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1950)|
Robert Frost Medal (1989)
National Medal of Arts (1995)
Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr.
(m. 1939; died 1996)
|Children||2, including Nora Brooks Blakely|
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. She was the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah (Wims) Brooks. Her father, a janitor for a music company, 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. Brooks' mother had taught at the Topeka school that later became involved in the famous Brown v. Board of Education racial desegregation case. Family lore held that Brooks' 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, and from then on, Chicago remained her home. She went to school at Forestville Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago. According to biographer Kenny Jackson Williams, Brooks then 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 a two-year program at 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 every relevant mindset of the country.
Brooks began writing at an early age and her mother encouraged her, saying, ''You are going to be the lady Paul Laurence Dunbar." After her early educational experiences, Brooks never pursued a four-year college 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:
Living 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 16, she had already written and published approximately 75 poems. At 17, 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. In her early years, she received commendations on her poetic work and encouragement from James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, well-known writers with whom she kept in communication and whose readings she attended in Chicago.
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 at the new South Side Community Art Center, 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 her read "The Ballad of Pearl May Lee." In 1944, she achieved a goal she had been pursuing through continued unsolicited submissions since she was 14 years old: two of her poems were published in Poetry magazine's November issue. In the autobiographical information she provided to the magazine, she described her occupation as a "housewife".
Brooks' published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), with Harper & Brothers, after a 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 growing into womanhood in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. The book was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and was also 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 34 vignettes follows the life of a black woman named Maud Martha in detail, as she moves 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 Langston 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 works, 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, and City College of New York.
The Rare Book & Manuscript Library 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.
Gwendolyn Brooks died at her Chicago home on December 3, 2000.
The Poetry Foundation lists these works among others:
Several collections of multiple works by Brooks were also published.
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.
The following are the Pulitzer Prizes for 1950.Afro-Arts Theater
Opened in Chicago in 1967, it was a meeting place for Black Power Activists. On December 28, 1969, the Afro-Arts Theater on Chicago's South Side, Gwendolyn Brooks received what she considers the most stirring and significant tribute of her life.Annie Allen
Annie Allen is a book of poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks that was published in 1949, and for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. This made her the first African American to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize.
The work consists of three parts about an African-American girl, Annie, growing into womanhood. The first part, titled "Notes from the Childhood and Girlhood", includes 11 poems giving glimpses into Annie's birth, her mother, and her reaction to racism, killing, and death. "The Anniad", a mock heroic poem divided into 43 stanzas and three "Appendix" poems, tells of Annie's dreams of a lover who goes to war, returns to her, marries her, leaves her, and comes back home to die. The last section, "The Womanhood", shows Annie's outlook on a world she would like to change. The book of poetry shows how Annie has changed from an egotistic romantic to a realistic idealist.Artful Dodge
The Artful Dodge is a literary magazine based in Wooster, Ohio at the College of Wooster. Founded by Daniel Bourne in 1979 in Bloomington, Indiana, the magazine has progressed from a flimsy pamphlet of carbon copies to a professionally produced literary magazine that won Bourne the Ohioana Library Association's Award for Editorial Excellence in 1992.Receiving grants from Ohio Arts Council and relying on student editors to sift through the over 3,000 manuscripts received each year, the Artful Dodge has managed to continue production to the present day, and has published writers such as Czesław Miłosz, William S. Burroughs, Charles Simic, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Ronald Wallace, and interviews with Jorge Luis Borges, Czesław Miłosz, W. S. Merwin, Nathalie Sarraute, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Least Heat-Moon, Michael Dorris, Tim O'Brien, and Stuart Dybek.Brooks (crater)
Brooks is a crater on the southwestern part Mercury. It has a diameter of 34 kilometers. Its name was adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 2015, and refers to the American poet and novelist Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000).Chicago Black Renaissance
The Chicago Black Renaissance (also known as the Black Chicago Renaissance) was a creative movement that blossomed out of the Chicago Black Belt on the city's South Side and spanned the 1930s and 1940s before a transformation in art and culture in the mid-1950s through the turn of the century. The movement included such famous African-American writers as Richard Wright, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Arna Bontemps, and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as musicians Thomas A. Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, and Earl Hines. Artists include, William Edouard Scott, Elizabeth Catlett, Charles Wilbert White, Margaret Burroughs, Charles C. Dawson, Archibald John Motley, Jr., and Eldzier Cortor.
During the Great Migration, which brought tens of thousands of African-Americans to Chicago's South Side, African-American writers, artists, and community leaders began promoting racial pride and a new black consciousness, similar to that of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. Unlike the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Black Renaissance did not receive the same amount of publicity on a national scale. This was due to several factors, including the Chicago group participants did not present a singularly prominent "face", wealthy patrons were less involved, and New York City, home of Harlem, was the higher profile national publishing center.Chicago literature
Chicago literature is writing, primarily by writers born or living in Chicago, that reflects the culture of the city.D. H. Melhem
D. H. Melhem was the professional name of Diana M. Vogel (1926–2013), an American poet, novelist, and editor.Dudley Randall
Dudley Randall (January 14, 1914 – August 5, 2000) was an African-American poet and poetry publisher from Detroit, Michigan. He founded a pioneering publishing company called Broadside Press in 1965, which published many leading African-American writers, among them Melvin Tolson, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Etheridge Knight, Margaret Walker, and others.Randall's most famous poem is "The Ballad of Birmingham," written in response to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed. Randall's poetry is characterized by simplicity, realism, and what one critic has called the "liberation aesthetic." Other well-known poems of his include "A Poet is not a Jukebox", "Booker T. and W.E.B.", and "The Profile on the Pillow".Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy
Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy (known as Brooks) is a public selective enrollment 4-year magnet high school located in the Roseland community area on the far south side of Chicago, Illinois, United States. It is operated by Chicago Public Schools. A university-preparatory school, it is named for African-American poet Gwendolyn Brooks.Johari Amini
Johari Amini is an African American woman who cofounded the Third World Press in 1967. In addition to this she also contributed to other Black Arts Movement institutions such as the Writers Workshop of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), its publication NOMMO, the Kuumba Theater, and the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers’ Workshop. She also worked for Black Books Bulletin as a writer as well as an editor. She has written many poems and short stories published in journals such as Black World. In addition to this impressive career in literature, she was also a practicing chiropractor. She wrote a book titled A Commonsense Approach to Eating (1975) that merged her two career paths.M. Miriam Herrera
M. Miriam Herrera is an American author and poet. Her poetry often explores Mexican American or Chicano life and her Crypto-Jewish and Native American (Cherokee) heritage, but mainly the universal themes of nature, family, myth, and the transcendent experience. Herrera was born to natives of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas in Sutherland, Nebraska, where her parents had been working in the sugar-beet fields. She was raised in Aurora, Illinois, where her parents moved to escape a migratory life of farm work.
Herrera's literary influences include Theodore Roethke, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gary Soto, Lucille Clifton, Flannery O'Conner, and Pablo Neruda. Herrera began writing poetry as a grade school student when she met Gwendolyn Brooks, former Poet Laureate of Illinois, when Brooks read her poetry at Herrera's elementary school.
Herrera attended the University of Illinois Program For Writers and earned her Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing in 1981. She studied with John Frederic Nims, the editor of Poetry Magazine; Ralph J. Mills, editor of The Selected Letters of Theodore Roethke and The Notebooks of David Ignatow; and Paul Carroll, founder of the Poetry Center of Chicago and of Big Table Magazine. While attending the University of Illinois at Chicago, Herrera was involved in the Chicano literary community, which included Sandra Cisneros, Carlos Cumpian, Norma Alarcón, Ana Castillo, and Ralph Cintron, et al., as her contemporaries.
Herrera taught Creative Writing, Poetry Writing, Chicano/Latino Literature, and Expository Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago; the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos; South Bay College, Hawthorne, California; and Russell Sage College, Troy, NY. She is a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, CA, and is the founder of the Writing Studio, Medusa Community of Poets & Writers, and the Audre Lorde Poetry Prize at Russell Sage College.
Herrera descends from Crypto-Jews or Conversos. These converts to Catholicism escaped the Spanish Inquisition for the New World where they intermarried with the indigenous peoples and old Christians who populated the American Southwest. Her poetry collection, Kaddish for Columbus explores the enigma of these divergent identities and landscapes the poet inhabits:
"Mythic borders appear in the poems as a metaphor for life that are found beyond physical space—the borders between peoples, ideas, religions, landscapes; between science and spirit, between self; how identities are transformed when one side collides with another; how the poet, a descendant of both Columbus and Native Americans, reconciles ambiguity."Maud Martha
Maud Martha is the only novel written by Pulitzer Prize winning African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Published in 1953 by Harper & Brothers and reprinted by Third World Press, it includes a series of vignettes following the title character Maud Martha as she negotiates the passage from childhood to adulthood in black Chicago neighbourhoods.Mecca Flats
Mecca Flats was an apartment complex in Chicago completed in 1892 and originally built as a hotel for visitors to the World's Columbian Exposition. The building was designed by Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham. Franklin Pierce Burnham was not related to Daniel Burnham. The 96-unit Mecca Flats became an apartment complex after the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and is also known as the Mecca Apartments to some.After the Exposition when the building was converted to apartments, rooms were leased only to white tenants at first. This policy was later reversed and the building became home to mostly middle-class black families. IIT razed the building in 1952 after a decade-long fight with tenants who aimed to prevent its destruction. S.R. Crown Hall, designed by Mies van der Rohe, replaced the building. Portions of the building's basement floor were unearthed in 2018 and subsequently displayed by IIT's architectural school, which is located in S.R. Crown Hall.
The building inspired a song by Jimmy Blythe titled "Mecca Flats Blues" and a poem, "In the Mecca", by poet Gwendolyn Brooks.Nora Brooks Blakely
Nora Brooks Blakely (born September 8, 1951) is a literary editor and agent. She is the president of Brooks Permissions, a permissions firm that manages the use of literary works by Gwendolyn Brooks and other authors.She has made public appearances and appeared in documentaries related to Chicago's literary scene, especially the Blacks Arts movement which grew out of Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.Oak Park Elementary School District
The Oak Park Elementary School District operates 10 schools, (eight elementary schools (K–5, unless otherwise noted) and two middle schools (6–8) in Oak Park, Illinois, USA.) The district has 376 teachers (FTEs) serving 4,923 students.
Note: Based on 2002–2003 school year dataSandra Jackson-Opoku
Sandra Jackson-Opoku (born 1953) is an American poet, novelist, screenwriter, and journalist, whose writing often focuses on culture and travel in the African diaspora. She has been the recipient of several awards, including from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the American Antiquarian Society. Her novels include The River Where Blood is Born (1997), which won the American Library Association Black Caucus Award for Best Fiction, and Hot Johnny (and the Women Whom Loved Him), which was an Essence magazine bestseller in hardcover fiction. She has also taught literature and creative writing at educational institutions internationally, including at Columbia College Chicago, the University of Miami, Nova Southeastern University, the Writer's Studio at the University of Chicago, the North Country Institute for Writers of Color, the Hurston-Wright Writers Workshop, and Chicago State University.The Chicago Defender
The Chicago Defender is a Chicago-based weekly newspaper founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott for primarily African-American readers. Historically, The Defender is considered the "most important" paper of what was then known as the colored or Negro press. Abbott's newspaper reported and campaigned against Jim Crow era violence and urged blacks in the American South to come north in what became the Great Migration. Under his nephew and chosen successor, John H. Sengstacke, the paper took on segregation, especially in the U.S. military, during World War II.In 1919–1922, the Defender attracted the writing talents of Langston Hughes; from the 1940s through 1960s Hughes also wrote an opinion column for the paper. Ethel Payne, Gwendolyn Brooks and Willard Motley wrote for the paper at different times. It was published as The Chicago Daily Defender, a daily newspaper, from 1956 to 2003, when it returned to a weekly format.We Real Cool
"We Real Cool" is a poem written in 1959 by poet Gwendolyn Brooks and published in her 1960 book The Bean Eaters, her third collection of poetry.
It consists of four verses of two rhyming lines each. The final word in most lines is "we". The next line describes something that "we" do, such as play pool or drop out of school. Brooks has said that the "we"s are meant to be said softly, as though the protagonists in the poem are questioning the validity of their existence. The poem has been featured on broadsides, and is widely studied in literature classes and re-printed in literature textbooks. It also contains references to the seven deadly sins.
The last lines of the poem, "We / Die soon," indicate the climax, which comes as a surprise to the boasts that have been made previously. It also suggests a moment of self-awareness about the choices that the players have made.
Awards for Gwendolyn Brooks