Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917-2000

  • Gwendolyn-Brooks-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education and Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: African-American Women, Author, Chicago Metro Area Women, Poet, and Pulitzer Prize

  • HerStory

    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”

    “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.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books she wrote
    * Her biography


    * 1946 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award
    * 1950 Pulitzer Award for Poetry
    * 1989 Frost Medal by the Poetry Society of America
    * 1989 National Endowment for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award
    * 1976 Shelley Memorial Award

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Gwendolyn Brooks reads her poems aloud

    Reads "The Near-Johannesburg Boy," "The Mother," and "We Real Cool."

    Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) was an American poet, author, and teacher. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry on May 1, 1950, for Annie Allen making her the first African American to receive the Pulitzer. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period.

    From the CD: Our Souls Have Grown Deep Like Rivers

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  • Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks Sculpture by Sara S. Miller presented in the National Portrait Gallery. Credit - WWP team.