Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, 1950 Born into a large and close-knit extended family, including memorable aunts and uncles whom Brooks later honored in her work, Brooks seems to always have been comfortable with herself. Her mother, Keziah Wims, met her father, David Anderson Brooks, in Topeka, Kansas in 1914. They soon married and relocated to Chicago. Keziah returned to family in Topeka to give birth to her first child, Gwendolyn. Keziah stayed in Topeka for several weeks before returning to her husband in Chicago with her infant daughter.
Gwendolyn's only sibling, younger brother Raymond, was born 16 months later. Brooks's mother had been a schoolteacher in Topeka, and her father, son of a runaway slave, had attended Fisk University for one year in hopes of becoming a doctor. Economic survival became more important, however, so his desires for a medical career were dashed and he spent a doctor. Economic survival became more important, however, so his desires for a medical career were dashed and he spent much of his life as a janitor.
Despite financial constraints for the young family in Chicago, Brooks remembers a loving, family atmosphere throughout her childhood. She had a more difficult time fitting in with her high-school classmates, however, attending three high schools: Hyde Park, which was mostly white; Wendell Phillips, which was all black; and Englewood High School, the integrated school from which she eventually graduated in 1934. Two years later, she graduated from Wilson Junior College (1936). Even prior to her high school years, it became apparent to Brooks that she did not really fit in with her peers.
She was a nonperson at Hyde Park and socially inept at Wendell Phillips. She kept her self-esteem, however, largely due to her strong family ties. Also, since she was seven years old, her mind had been someplace else. That place was poetry, which she had started writing at that young age. Her parents contributed to her love of language and story. As a former schoolteacher, Brooks's mother encouraged her daughter's interest, and her father often told stories and sang songs about his family's history with slavery.
From her parents and her extended family, Brooks learned the honor and dignity found in living everyday life with love and integrity. Her first published poem, “Eventide,” appeared in American Childhood Magazine in 1930 when Brooks was 13. At 16, with her mother's help, Brooks met two prominent African-American writers, James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. Although both writers read Brooks's work and told her that she had talent and should keep reading and writing poetry, only Hughes and Brooks developed a long and enduring friendship.
She later wrote a poem tribute to him, “Langston Hughes,” published in her Bean Eaters collection. She also remembered him fondly and with great respect in her autobiography, Report from Part One. In the meantime, she contributed regularly to the Chicago Defender, having 75 poems published there in two years. Brooks was also looking outside herself, joining the Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1938. There she met her future husband and fellow writer, Henry L. Blakey III, whom she married in 1939.
Marriage took Brooks from the comfort of her parent's home and into a kitchenette apartment, the setting for her first volume of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, published in 1945. She gave birth to their first child, Henry, Jr. , in 1940, and to their daughter, Nora, in 1951. In between the births of her children, Brooks kept writing her poetry. She and her husband participated in a poetry workshop given by Inez Cunningham Stark, a reader for Poetry magazine. There, Stark and other workshop participants encouraged Brooks.
In 1943, Brooks received the Midwestern Writers’ Conference Poetry Award. The Midwestern Writers’ award proved to be the first of many for Brooks: In 1945, she was named as one of Mademoiselle magazine's “Ten Young Women of the Year”; in 1946, she won the American Academy of Letters Award; in 1947 and 1948, she won Guggenheim fellowships; and in 1949, she won the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Award. Brooks published Annie Allen in 1949 and with it won the Pulitzer Prize for literature, becoming the first African American to do so.
The awards and honors continued for several years: being invited to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, at the request of then President Kennedy; named Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 (lifelong post); nominated for the National Book Award in 1969; appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1985 (the second African American and the first black woman in that post, which was later retitled the nation's Poet Laureate) ; inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1988; honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989 by the National Endowment for the Arts; named the 1994 Jefferson Lecturer by the National Endowment for the Humanities; presented with the National Book Foundation's lifetime achievement medal in 1994; awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995 and the Order of Lincoln Medallion given by the Lincoln Academy of Illinois in 1997; and received about 50 honorary degrees. Brooks also devoted herself to nurturing young writers of all races: She taught poetry at various colleges and universities in the United States; sponsored writing contests for students; brought poetry to prisons, schools, and rehab centers; funded and gave scholarships; and offered awards of travel to Africa.
She also wrote books to encourage budding authors, such as her A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing (1975), Young Poet's Primer (1980), and Very Young Poets (1983). Above all, however, Brooks has been a prolific writer. Her first published collection of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), garnered immediate national acclaim. The collection chronicles the life of poor urban Blacks in a segregated setting reminiscent of Chicago's South Side—essentially a series of portraits of people who fled rural poverty and hopelessness only to find themselves trapped in an urban ghetto. Realistic yet compassionate, the poems unflinchingly examine the failed dreams and small hopes of the maids, preachers, gamblers, prostitutes, and others who live in “Bronzeville. After Brooks received the Pulitzer for Annie Allen, her major works included a novel, Maude Martha, 1953; and more poetry collections, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, 1956; The Bean Eaters, 1960; Selected Poems, 1963; In the Mecca, 1968; Riot, 1969; Family Pictures, 1970; Aloneness, 1971; The Tiger Who Wore Gloves; or What You Are You Are, 1974; Beckonings, 1975; A Primer for Blacks, 1980; To Disembark, 1981; The Near Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems, 1986; Blacks, 1987; Children Coming Home, 1992; and her posthumous collection, In Montgomery, 2001. (In 2005, Elizabeth Alexander edited The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks. ) Brooks also wrote her own story in the autobiographies A Report from Part One, 1972; and Report From Part Two, 1996. Brooks's work always honored the everyday existence of African Americans.
She did, however, change her style as the social situation in the United States changed. One catalyst for this change was the Second Black Writers’ Conference, which she attended at Fisk University in 1967. There she met young black writers who were a part of the Black Arts Movement, who wrote with overt anger and sometimes obscenities. This event gave Brooks pause and her own sensibilities of her “blackness” came into question. After this event, Brooks started selling her work to smaller, African-American publishing houses. Some have accused Brooks of becoming too much like the newer poets—too polemic, leaving behind her subtle and unique use of language came into question.
After this event, Brooks started selling her work to smaller, African-American publishing houses. Some have accused Brooks of becoming too much like the newer poets—too polemic, leaving behind her subtle and unique use of language and form as a way of seeing the world. Others sense in Brooks's newer work a renewed vision of what it means to be African American in the United States, a continuance of her abiding respect and awe for the wonders of everyday existence and for her unique way of finding universal truths within the specific lives and events of ordinary people. In eulogizing Brooks to Essence magazine, her long-time publisher and friend Haki Madhubuti recalled, “She wore her love in her language. Her love has been returned, too, as shown in the tribute book To Gwen With Love (1971) and the almost worshipful celebrations of her 70th and 80th birthdays (1987, 1997).
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APA Brooks, Gwendolyn (Elizabeth). (2009).
In Encyclopedia of African-American Writing. Retrieved from http://www. credoreference. com/entry/ghaaw/brooks_gwendolyn_elizabeth Chicago Encyclopedia of African-American Writing, s. v.
"Brooks, Gwendolyn (Elizabeth)," accessed April 16, 2013, http://www. credoreference. com/entry/ghaaw/brooks_gwendolyn_elizabeth Harvard ‘Brooks, Gwendolyn (Elizabeth)’ 2009, in Encyclopedia of African-American Writing, Grey House Publishing, Amenia, NY, USA, viewed 16 April 2013, MLA "Brooks, Gwendolyn (Elizabeth). " Encyclopedia of African-American Writing. Amenia: Grey House Publishing, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 16 April 2013.