Author. Born June 7, 1917, Topeka, Kansas. Died: December 3, 2000, Chicago, Illinois.
Born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, the daughter of a school teacher, Gwendolyn Brooks was barely one month old when the family moved to Chicago. From an early age, she developed an interest in writing and was able to relate experiences on black urban life into a complicated but beautiful poetic style.
An avid reader, Brooks' family encouraged her interests, providing books at home and taking her to meet Harlem Renaissance member and Kansas author Langston Hughes. Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at age 13. Her work reflected her experiences growing up with racism in Chicago.
Brooks' first success was A Street in Bronzeville, a book of poetry published in 1945, which brought rave reviews and addressed important social and political issues of the time. Her second book of poetry, Annie Allen, published in 1950, studied black urban life in post-war Chicago. For this work she received Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize. That honor was followed by the Pulitzer Prize; the first African American poet to receive the award.
President John F. Kennedy invited her to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962. Brooks taught at various universities including Columbia and Elmhurst. In 1968 Brooks was named Poet Laureate of Illinois and in 1985 the Library of Congress's Consultant in Poetry. Her other successful works include In the Mecca, Maud Martha, Riot, and her autobiography which brought international prominence.
Brooks connected with groups across the nation on the issue of racial discrimination. She received many honors during her life including a National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellowship for Literature, a lifetime achievement award, and the National Book Foundation's medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1994.
The poet remembered her roots and occasionally visited her home state. She was keynote speaker at a Kaw Valley Girl Scout Women of Distinction banquet in 1996 in Topeka. Brooks died December 3, 2000, in Chicago after leaving a writing legacy for which all Kansans can be proud.
This sampling of her work is from Song of Winnie:
A poem doesn’t do everything for you.
You are supposed to go on with your thinking.
You are supposed to enrich
the other person’s poem with your extensions,
your uniquely personal understandings,
thus making the poem serve you.
Entry: Brooks, Gwendolyn
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: October 2007
Date Modified: April 2016
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