Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. When Brooks was six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago during the Great Migration, the movement of 6 million African Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that occurred between 1916 and 1970. From then until her death, Chicago remained her home, and she would closely identify with Chicago for the rest of her life.
Brooks began writing at an early age, encouraged by her mother and when she was a teen began submitting poems to various publications. By the time she had graduated from high school in 1935, she was already a regular contributor to The Chicago Defender, a popular newspaper for African American readers. She graduated in 1936 from a two-year program at Wilson Junior College, now known as Kennedy-King College, and worked as a typist to support herself while she pursued a career in writing.
Brooks published her first poem, "Eventide", in a children's magazine, American Childhood, when she was 13 years old. By the age of 16, she had already written and published approximately 75 poems. At 17, she started submitting her work to "Lights and Shadows," the poetry column of the Chicago Defender. In her early years, she received commendations on her poetic work and encouragement from James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes. James Weldon Johnson sent her the first critique of her poems when she was only sixteen years old.
In 1939, Brooks married Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr., whom she met after joining Chicago’s NAACP Youth Council. In 1944, she achieved a goal she had been pursuing through continued unsolicited submissions since she was 14 years old: two of her poems were published in Poetry magazine's November issue. Brooks' published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, in 1945. The book earned instant critical acclaim for its authentic and textured portraits of life in Bronzeville. Brooks' second book of poetry, Annie Allen, published in 1949, focused on the life and experiences of a young Black girl growing into womanhood in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. The book was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Brooks was the first African American woman to be awarded this honor. Annie Allen, was also awarded Poetry magazine's Eunice Tietjens Prize.
In 1953, Brooks published her first and only narrative book, a novella titled Maud Martha, which in a series of 34 vignettes follows the life of a black woman named Maud Martha Brown as she moves about life from childhood to adulthood. In 1968, she published one of her most famous works, In the Mecca, a long poem about a mother's search for her lost child in a Chicago apartment building. The poem was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry. Her autobiographical Report From Part One, including reminiscences, interviews, photographs and vignettes, came out in 1972, and Report From Part Two was published in 1995, when she was almost 80. She enjoyed mentoring the new generation of young black poets until her death on December 3, 2000 at 83.
Poetry to celebrate the poet Gwendolyn Brooks.