Her Story: Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-200) was a prolific poet and author who won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950, she was the first African-American to receive this honor. Brooks, born in 1917, was from the south side of Chicago. She primarily wrote about ordinary people from her own community and shared life as she saw it.

As a child, Brooks was very shy and she spent most of her childhood writing. She experienced a lot of racial prejudice at school, this shaped her understanding of American society and influenced her writing. She began corresponding with well-known writers of her time, sharing her poems and receiving encouragement from them. Her first poem was published when she was just 13 years old. By the time she was sixteen, she had written over seventy-five poems. Her first book of poetry was published in 1945, “A Street in Bronzeville” became an instant success. Throughout her life, she wrote numerous poems and stories and published multiple books. She addressed politics, race, prejudice, social justice, women’s experiences, and solidarity. Her body of work is rich and gives a voice to the urban Black experience.

In 1968, Brooks was appointed the ‘Poet Laureate’ of Illinois. In 1989 she received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment of the Arts. She is also the first African-American woman to have been inducted into the ‘American Academy of Arts and Letters’. Gwendolyn Brooks earned many honors in her lifetime and is considered one of the most influential and highly regarded poets of the 20th century. We salute you, Gwendolyn Brooks, for your talent, commitment, bravery, and voice.

Gwendolyn Brooks, poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Photographed in Washington on January 23, 1986. (UPI Photo/Bruce Reedy/Files)

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Mother, Photographer, Wisecracker.... not necessarily in that order.

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