Gwendolyn Brooks cropped

Gwendolyn Brooks in 1985. Photo from Miami Dade Archives. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Gwendolyn Brooks
Born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks
June 7, 1917(1917-Template:MONTHNUMBER-07)
Topeka, Kansas, USA
Died December 3, 2000(2000-Template:MONTHNUMBER-03) (aged 83)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Occupation Poet
Nationality United States of America
Period 1930-2000
Genres Poetry
Notable work(s) Annie Allen
Notable award(s) Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
Spouse(s) Henry Blakely (m. 1939)

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 - December 3, 2000) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American poet. who also served as Poet laureate of Illinois and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.



Brooks was born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, to David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims, their first child. Her mother was a former school teacher who left teaching for marriage and motherhood, and her father, the son of a runaway slave who fought in the Civil War, had given up his ambition to become a doctor to work as a janitor because he could not afford to attend medical school.

When Brooks was only 6 weeks old, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she grew up. She went by the nickname, "Gwendie," which her close friends called her. Her home life was stable and loving, although she encountered racial prejudice in her neighborhood and in her schools.

She attended Hyde Park High School, the leading white high school in the city, before transferring to all-black Wendell Phillips. Brooks eventually attended an integrated school, Englewood High School. In 1936, she graduated from Wilson Junior College. These four schools gave her a perspective on racial dynamics in the city that continued to influence her work.

Her enthusiasm for reading and writing was encouraged by her parents. Her father provided a desk and bookshelves, and her mother took her, when she was in high school, to meet Harlem Renaissance poets Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson.(Citation needed)


Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of 13. When she was 16 years old, she had compiled a portfolio of around seventy-five published poems. Aged 17, Brooks stuck to her roots and began submitting her work to "Lights and Shadows", the poetry column of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper. During this same period, she also attended Wilson Junior College, from where she graduated in 1936. After publishing more than seventy-five poems and failing to obtain a position with the Chicago Defender, Brooks began to work a series of typing jobs.

In 1939, Brooks married Henry Blakely and gave birth to 2 children: Henry Blakely Jr. (born in 1940), and Nora Blakely (born in 1951).

By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. One particularly influential workshop was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark. Stark was an affluent white woman with a strong literary background, and the workshop participants were all African-American. The group dynamic of Stark's workshop proved especially effective in energizing Brooks and her poetry began to be taken seriously (The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, Editor, 2005). In 1943 she received an award for poetry from the Midwestern Writers' Conference.

Her 1st book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, published in 1945 by Harper and Row, brought her instant critical acclaim. She received her 1st Guggenheim Fellowship and was one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine. In 1950, she published her second book of poetry, Annie Allen, which won her Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the first given to an African-American.

After John F. Kennedy invited her to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, she began her career teaching creative writing. She taught at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 1967, she attended a writer’s conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness. This rediscovery is reflected in her work In The Mecca, a long poem about a mother searching for her lost child in a Chicago apartment building. In The Mecca was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry.

Brooks died on December 3, 2000, aged 83, at her Southside Chicago home. She is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois.[1]


Her poems range in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to using blues rhythms in free verse. Her characters are often drawn from the poor inner city.


“Born in Alabama / Bred in Illinois. / He was nothing but a / Plain black boy.”

“Swing low swing low sweet sweet chariot. / Nothing but a plain black boy”

Excerpted from a much longer poem, Of De Witt Williams on His Way to Lincoln Cemetery, (1946) about the joyful, anonymous, seedy, short life of a Chicago resident going to his grave, through the streets of Bronzville[2].


Sara S. Miller's 1994 Bronze Portrait Bust Of Gwendolyn Brooks

Bust of Brooks by Sara S. Miller, 1974. Photo by takomabibelot. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to the National Book Award nomination and the Pulitzer Prize, Brooks was made Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968.

In 1985, Brooks became the Library of Congress's Consultant in Poetry, a 1 year position whose title changed the next year to Poet Laureate. In 1988, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 1994, she was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecturer, the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government. In 1995, she was presented with the National Medal of Arts. Other awards she received included the Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Brooks was awarded more than 75 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide. In 1995, she was honored as the first Woman of the Year by the Harvard Black Men's Forum.

On May 1, 1996 Brooks returned to her birthplace in Topeka, Kansas. She was the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction. A ceremony was held in Brooks’ honor at a local park, located at 37th and Topeka Boulevard.


  • 1970: Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Macomb, Illinois[3]
  • 1995: Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois
  • 2000: Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2001: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Harvey, Illinois
  • 2002: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Oak Park, Illinois
  • 2003: Gwendolyn Brooks Illinois State Library, Springfield, Illinois
  • 2002: 100 Greatest African Americans.[4]
  • 2005: Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, Bolingbrook, Illinois



  • A Street in Bronzeville. New York: Harper, 1945.
  • Annie Allen. New York: Harper, 1949.
  • The Bean Eaters. New York: Harper, 1960.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Harper, 1963.
  • In the Time of Detachment, in the Time of Cold. Springfield, IL: Civil War Centennial Commission of Illinois, 1965.
  • In the Mecca. New York: Harper, 1968.
  • For Illinois 1968: A sesquicentennial poem. New York: Harper, 1968.
  • Riot. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1969.
  • Family Pictures. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1970.
  • Aloneness. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1971.
  • The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (contains A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen, Maud Martha, The Bean Eaters, & In the Mecca. New York: Harper, 1971.
  • Aurora. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1972.
  • Beckonings. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1975.
  • Primer for Blacks. Chicago, IL: Black Position Press, 1980.
  • To Disembark. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, 1981.
  • Black Love. Chicago, IL: Brooks Press, 1982.
  • Mayor Harold Washington & Chicago, the I Will City. Chicago, IL: Brooks Press, 1983.
  • The Near-Johannesburg Boy, and other poems. Chicago, IL: David Co., 1987.
  • Blacks (includes A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen, The Bean Eaters, Maud Martha, A Catch of Shy Fish, Riot,In the Mecca, and most of Family Pictures). Chicago: David Co., 1987.
  • Gottschalk and the Grande Tarantelle. Chicago, IL: David Co., 1988.
  • Winnie. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, 1988.
  • Children Coming Home. Chicago, IL: David Co., 1991.
  • In Montgomery, and other poems. Chicago, IL: Third World Press, 2003.


  • Maud Martha. New York: Harper, 1953.


  • A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1975.
  • Young Poet's Primer (writing manual; with Keorapetse Kgositsile, Haki R. Madhubuti, & Dudley Randall)). Chicago, IL: Brooks Press, 1981.
  • Very Young Poets (writing manual). Chicago, IL: Brooks Press, 1983.
  • Report from Part One: An autobiography. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1972.
  • Report from Part Two (autobiography). Chicago: Third World Press, 1996.


  • Bronzeville Boys and Girls (poems). New York: Harper, 1956.
  • The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves; or, You are what you are. Chicago: Third World Press 1974; reissued, 1987.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Gwendolyn Brooks Library. Moonbeam Publications, 1991.


  • A Broadside Treasury (poems). Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1971.
  • Jump Bad: A new Chicago anthology. Highland Park, MI: Broadside Press, 1971.

Gwendolyn Brooks reads We Real Cool

Gwendolyn Brooks reads We Real Cool

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[5]

Audio / videoEdit

  • The Day of the Gwendolyn: A lecture (sound recording). Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1986.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. Gwendolyn Brooks, Find a Grave. Web, Apr. 8, 2018.
  2. Encyclopedia of Chicago, Literary Images of Chicago.]
  3. "About the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center". Western Illinois University. Retrieved March 29, 2010. 
  4. Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Gwendolyn Brooks 1917-2000, Poetry Foundation, Web, June 26, 2012.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
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