Gwendolyn Brooks

7 June 1917 – 3 December 2000

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas but when she was only six weeks old, her parents moved to Chicago during the Great Migration. Brooks would call Chicago home for the rest of her life. She had one sibling, a brother a year younger. Her father had aspired to becoming a doctor but gave up that dream to get married and raise a family; her mother was a teacher and classical concert pianist. She married in 1939 and had two children, a son and a daughter.

Brooks began writing young and published her first poem when she was just thirteen years old and continued to write and publish at a great rate throughout her teens. By the age of twenty-seven, she’d placed two poems in the prestigious Poetry magazine, a goal she’d been working toward for thirteen years, and the following year, she published her first book of poetry, titled A Street in Bronzeville. From the very early years of her career, her work was admired and supported by her fellow poets, including Richard Wright and Langston Hughes.

In 1950 at only 33 years old, she became the first African-American to win a Pulitzer when her second collection titled Annie Allen took the prize for poetry.

Counting from her first published poem in 1930, her career spanned the remaining seventy years of the twentieth century and included many more collections of poems, awards, and honors too numerous to restate here. As usual, Wikipedia’s entry is a good place to start. OR one could start with the selected works listed on the back of her headstone which is itself shaped like a book.

A couple of my favorite highlights are that she served as Illinois’ poet laureate from 1968 until her death in 2000; she was honored with a commemorative postage stamp in 2012; she was the Poet Laureate of the United States in 1985; and there’s a statue of her in the park named after her in Chicago.

RIP Gwendolyn Brooks


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