Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks ~African American Pioneer

Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was an African American poet. She was the first African American author to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950. She was also appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. She later became the first African American woman appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, in 1985. EVERYDAY is Black History.

Brooks was raised in an educational family, for her mother was a teacher. As a youth she encountered racial prejudice growing up in Illinois. She attended an all high school and was then transferred to an all black high school, she finished high school in an integrated school. These changes however did not stop her from working hard educationally. She graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. Brooks growing up in Illinois, educational experiences and encounters with racial prejudice influenced her literary work

By the time she was sixteen, she had compiled a portfolio of around 75 published poems. At seventeen, she started submitting her work to “Lights and Shadows”, the poetry column of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper. Her poems, many published while she attended Wilson Junior College, ranged in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to poems using blues rhythms in free verse. Her characters were often drawn from the poor of the inner city. Brooks published her first poem in a children’s magazine at the age of nineteen.

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By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. Inez Cunningham Stark, an affluent white woman with a strong literary background, trained her. The group dynamic of Stark’s workshop, all of whose participants were African American, energized Brooks. Her poetry began to be taken seriously. In 1943 she received an award for poetry from the Midwestern Writers’ Conference. Brooks’ first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), published by Harper and Row, earned instant critical acclaim. She received her first Guggenheim Fellowship and was included as one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine. With her second book of poetry, Annie Allen (1950), she became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; she also was awarded Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize. After, President John F. Kennedy invited Brooks to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962. She then began a second career teaching creative writing.

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Brooks has 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.

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    Gwendolyn Teaching at Columbia University. 

In 1967 she attended a writers’ conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness. This rediscovery is reflected in her work In The Mecca (1968), 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. On May 1, 1996, Brooks returned to her birthplace of Topeka, Kansas. She was invited as the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council’s “Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction.” A ceremony was held in her honor at a local park at 37th and Topeka Boulevard.

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Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was truly a pioneer in African American poetry and creative writing. She championed for the acknowledgement of black literacy. She also strived to portray the black experience in her body of work. She is a woman to be admired. She is also a woman who KNEW her worth. She did not let circumstance limit her ability to prosper. She created her own opportunities and effectively utilized the opportunities presented to her to become better. Family, remember to use education as a vessel to reach your goals and be passionate in your work. Also, use every challenge and life experience as a means to communicate whom you without trepidation. Let your beliefs and passion shine through always. ~Know Your Worth~ -M. Millie

Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes

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