Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas on June 7th, 1917 to Keziah (Wims) Brooks (schoolteacher) and David Anderson Brooks (janitor). She grew up on the South Side of Chicago and graduated from Englewood High School. Brooks used writing as her refuge from the ridicule she received from her peers because of her dark skin, coarse hair, and poor social and athletic skills. She wrote more than 75 poems by the time she was sixteen! Early on, Brooks was encouraged in her writing by Inez Cunningham Stark, James Weldon Johnson, and Langston Hughes.
Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. She married Henry Blakely in 1938 and had two children. In 1945, Brook’s first book of poetry was published – A Street in Bronzeville. This book brought her to the national stage. She went on to win a number of awards including the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for Annie Allen. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Her career continued to flourish as her poetry evolved. In 1967, Brooks attended the Second Black Writers’ Conference at Fisk University, which influenced her work heavily. Her work became more political and she explored issues of race, sex, and class in her writings. Some examples of this new tone include In the Mecca (1968), Riot (1969), and Primer for Blacks (1980). Teaching and mentoring the next generation of writers also became an important part of her life.
In 1985, she was appointed the 29th Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She received the government’s highest honor in 1994 when the National Endowment for the Humanities named her its Jefferson Lecturer.
Gwendolyn Brooks passed away on December 3, 2000.
Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School was named in her honor in 2001.