Brooks, Gwendolyn, 1917-2000

Alternative names
Birth 1917-06-07
Death 2000-12-03

Biographical notes:

African American poet and novelist, who was an important figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

From the description of Of Robert Frost / Gwendolyn Brooks. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79334638

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 17, 1917 and moved shortly after her birth to Chicago's South Side, where she lived until her death. She authored more than twenty books of poetry, beginning with A Street in Bronzeville (1945), followed by Annie Allen (1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, the first Pulitzer awarded to an African American woman. In 1986 she was named poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, and she succeeded Carl Sandburg in 1968 as Poet Laureate of Illinois. She also wrote a novel, an autobiography, and critical prose. Brooks taught at Columbia College (Chicago), Northeastern Illinois University, Columbia University, and the University of Wisconsin, among others. Brooks died December 3, 2000, in Chicago, Ill.

From the description of Gwendolyn Brooks papers, 1917-2000 (bulk 1950-1989). (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 82899670

A native of Kansas who was raised in and resided in Chicago as an adult, Brooks wrote more than twenty books of poetry, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was poet laureate of Illinois beginning in 1968.

From the description of Papers, 1965. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 77514481

African-American poet, novelist and lecturer.

From the description of Gwendolyn Brooks collection, 1959-1967. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122580007

From the guide to the Gwendolyn Brooks collection, 1959-1967, (The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.)

Biographical Information

At the age of thirty-three, Gwendolyn Brooks became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Her legacy as one of the most influential poets of the Twentieth Century endures. Richard Wright, an early advocate of Brooks, once said that her poetry captured "the pathos of petty destinies, the whimper of the wounded, the tiny incidents that plague the lives of the desperately poor, and the problems of common prejudice" (Watkins, 2000, The New York Times ).

Brooks was born on June 7, 1917 in Topeka Kansas. Shortly after her birth, Brooks's parents, David and Keziah Brooks, relocated the family to South Side Chicago. She remained in South Side until her death. At a very early age, Brooks began to write poetry. When she was thirteen years old her first poem was published in the American Childhood Magazine . At a crucial point in her creative development, Brooks met Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson, both of whom encouraged her poetry writing. She was educated at several white, black, and integrated high schools in Chicago. During her school years, Brooks prolifically published her poems, largely as a regular contributor to the "Lights and Shadows" poetry column of the Chicago Defender . In 1936, Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College.

In 1938, Brooks and Henry Blakely were married. Their first child, Henry Jr., was born in 1940 and their daughter Nora was born in 1951. During this period, Brooks began to win critical acclaim for her poetry. She won the 1943 Midwestern Writer's Conference Poetry Award. Shortly thereafter, A Street in Bronzeville, her first book of poetry, was published by Harper and Row (1945). The instant critical acclaim this book received was followed by her first Guggenheim Fellowship award and a nomination to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1950, her second published collection, Annie Allen, won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Brooks went on to publish additional books of poetry, a novel, an autobiography, essays, reviews, speeches, and a play. Following her Pulitzer Prize, she issued Maud Martha (1953), a novel that was praised by reviewers but did not gain wide readership. Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956) a collection of children's poetry, The Bean Eaters (1960), and Selected Poems (1963) followed the novel. One of her most popular volumes of poetry, We Real Cool, was released in 1966. With Broadside Press, a small black publisher founded by poet Dudley Randall, Brooks published Riot (1969), Family Pictures (1970), and her autobiography, Report from Part One (1972).

Ms. Brooks's teaching career began at Columbia College in Chicago in 1963. Over the course of her career, she taught creative writing at many different institutions including: Northeastern Illinois State College, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, City College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

In 1967, Brooks became involved in the Black Arts movement while attending the Fisk University Writers Conference in Nashville. At this point, she dropped her publisher Harper and Row to work with smaller publishing houses. While her poems always addressed social issues, her writing became markedly more concerned with the black experience in the 1960s.

Brooks succeeded Carl Sandburg as poet laureate of Illinois in 1968 and remained in this post until her death. Her dedication to this role and to bringing poetry to the people of Illinois was deep. Brooks gave many public readings and was an active visitor to Chicago schools and prisons. Her poetry workshops and contests for young people were meant to inspire and teach children that poetry can be a part of every day life.

Over the course of her career, Brooks received many honors. In 1976, she became the first black woman to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The Library of Congress invited her to serve as poetry consultant in 1985. In 1994, the National Endowment for the Humanities named her its Jefferson Lecturer, the government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Brooks received honorary doctorate degrees from over 50 colleges and universities in recognition of her contribution to literature.

Brooks died in her home in Chicago on December 3, 2000.

Bibliography of Works by Gwendolyn Brooks

A Street in Bronzeville. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1945. Annie Allen. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949. Maud Martha. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1953. Bronzeville Boys and Girls. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956. The Bean Eaters. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960. Selected Poems. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. We Real Cool. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1966. The Wall. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1967. In the Mecca. New York: Harper & Row, 1968. Riot. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969. Family Pictures. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970. Aloneness. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971. The World of Gwendolyn Brooks. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Black Steel: Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971. A Broadside Treasury. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971. Jump Bad. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1971. Report from Part One. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1972. The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves, or What You Really Are, You Really Are. Chicago: Third World Press, 1974. Beckonings. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1975. Primer for Blacks. Chicago: Black Position Press, 1980. To Disembark. Chicago: Third World Press, 1981. Young Poets Primer. Chicago: Brooks Press, 1981. Mayor Harold Washington and Chicago, the I Will City. Chicago: Brooks Press, 1983. Very Young Poets. Chicago: Third World Press, 1983. Blacks. Chicago: Third World Press, 1987. Gottschalk and the Grande Tarantelle. Chicago, The David Company, 1988. Winnie. Chicago: The David Company, 1988.

Published Works on Gwendolyn Brooks

Bloom, Harold.Gwendolyn Brooks. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005. Bolden, B. J.Urban Rage in Bronzeville: Social Commentary in the Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, 1945-1960. Chicago: Third World Press, 1999. Gayles, Gloria W.Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003. Hill, Christine M.Gwendolyn Brooks: "poetry is life distilled." Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2005. Kent, George E.A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. Madhubuti, Haki R., ed. SayThat the River Turns: The Impact of Gwendolyn Brooks. Chicago: Third World Press, 1987. Melhem, D. H.Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1987. Miller, R. Baxter.Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K.Hall, 1978. Mootry, Maria K., and Smith, Gary.A Life Distilled: Gwendolyn Brooks, Her Poetry and Fiction. Urbana: UP of Illinois, 1987. Shaw, Harry B.Gwendolyn Brooks. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Wright, Stephen Caldwell.The Chicago Collective: Poems for and Inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks. Sanford, Florida: Christopher-Burghardt, 1990. Wright, Stephen Caldwell.On Gwendolyn Brooks: Reliant Contemplation. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

From the guide to the Gwendolyn Brooks papers, 1917-2000, 1950-1989, (The Bancroft Library.)


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  • Poets laureate
  • American poets--20th century
  • African American poetry
  • Authors, American. Correspondence, reminiscences, etc
  • American poetry--20th century--African American authors
  • Poets, Women
  • African American poets--20th century--Pictorial works
  • American poetry--African American authors
  • African Americans
  • African American women poets--20th century
  • Journalists--Correspondence, reminiscences, etc
  • African American women poets
  • African American poets--20th century
  • Poets--20th century--Portraits
  • Poetry


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  • Illinois (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Chicago (Ill.) (as recorded)
  • Illinois--Chicago (as recorded)