An award-winning poet who was the first African American author to receive the Pulitzer Prize.
When Gwendolyn Elizabeth wrote an assignment in school, her teacher thought it was too good to be true and accused the young learner of stealing the piece of writing. Her parents encouraged her to pursue her talent, and she would be excused from washing the dishes if she was busy writing.
Her first poem was published at the age of 13. She later published more than 20 books of poetry and non-fiction, a novel, children’s books, and two autobiographies.
Her writing reflects on black consciousness – strengthened by attending black writers conference at Fisk University in 1967, with special interest in the everyday life of her urban community.
She received 50 honorary degrees and made several “firsts”: when she was 33 years old, her second book won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; She was a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, the first black woman to hold that position; And a poet laureate of the State of Illinois.
Since moving to Chicago as an infant, she stayed there for all her life, being influenced by the city and contributing to it. She was passionate about education and committed to making poetry inclusive – visiting schools, reading in hospitals and prisons.
To support beginning writers she initiated and self-funded literary contests. She was married and had two children.
“The black emphasis must be, not against white, but FOR black”
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She was a fan of “All My Children” soap opera and didn’t answer the phone if it rang while she was watching it.
- She ran a young poets workshop in her home, which included members of the Blackstone Rangers street gang.
- To express her support of black-owned businesses, she moved publishers and later established her own outlet, calling it David, after her father.