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Gwendolyn Brooks

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Subject: Chicago literature, Chicago Black Renaissance, Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, United States Poet Laureate
Collection: 1917 Births, 2000 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Poets, 20Th-Century Women Writers, African-American Poets, American Poets Laureate, American Women Poets, Cancer Deaths in Illinois, Chicago State University Faculty, Guggenheim Fellows, Northeastern Illinois University Faculty, People from Topeka, Kansas, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Winners, United States National Medal of Arts Recipients, Writers from Chicago, Illinois, Writers from Topeka, Kansas
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Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks
Born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks
(1917-06-07)June 7, 1917
Topeka, Kansas, US
Died December 2, 2000(2000-12-02) (aged 83)
Chicago, Illinois, US
Occupation Poet
Nationality American
Period 1930–2000
Notable works A Street in Bronzeville, Annie Allen, Winnie
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1950)
Robert Frost Medal (1989)
Spouse Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. (m. 1939)
Children Henry Blakely, III, and Nora Blakely

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 2, 2000) was an American poet and teacher. She was the first black person (the term she preferred to African-American[1]) to win a Pulitzer prize when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950 for her second collection, Annie Allen.

Throughout her career she received many more honors. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position she held until her death,[2] and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.[3]
A photo of Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes
Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes in an undated photo

Contents

  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Writing 2.1
    • Teaching 2.2
    • Archives 2.3
  • Personal life 3
  • Death 4
  • Honors and legacy 5
    • Legacy 5.1
  • Bibliography 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, and died on December 3, 2000[4] in Chicago, IL. She was the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah (Wims) Brooks. Her mother was a school teacher and chose that field of work because she could not afford to attend medical school. (Family lore held that her paternal grandfather had escaped slavery to join the Union forces during the American Civil War.)[5]

When Brooks was six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois during the Great Migration; from then on, Chicago remained her home. According to biographer Kenny Jackson Williams, Brooks first attended a leading white high school in the city, Hyde Park High School, transferred to the all-black Wendell Phillips, and then to the integrated Englewood High School. After completing high school, she graduated in 1936 from Wilson Junior College, now known as Kennedy-King College. Williams noted, "These four schools gave her a perspective on racial dynamics in the city that continue[d] to influence her work.[6]

After these early educational experiences, Brooks never pursued a four-year degree because she knew she wanted to be a writer and considered it unnecessary. "I am not a scholar," she later said. "I'm just a writer who loves to write and will always write."[1] She worked as a typist to support herself while she pursued her career.[1]

She would closely identify with Chicago for the rest of her life. In a 1994 interview, she remarked on this,

"(L)iving in the city, I wrote differently than I would have if I had been raised in Topeka, KS...I am an organic Chicagoan. Living there has given me a multiplicity of characters to aspire for. I hope to live there the rest of my days. That's my headquarters.[1]

Career

'Winnie'

Writing

Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of thirteen. 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 inner city life that Brooks knew well. She said, "I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material."[4]

By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. A particularly influential one was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark, an affluent white woman with a strong literary background. Stark offered writing workshops to African-Americans on Chicago's South Side, which Brooks attended.[7] It was here she gained momentum in finding her voice and a deeper knowledge of the techniques of her predecessors. Renowned poet Langston Hughes stopped by the workshop and heard Brooks read "The Ballad of Pearl May Lee."[7] Brooks continued to work diligently at her writing and growing the community of artists and writers around her as her poetry began to be taken more seriously.[8]

Brooks' published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), with Harper and Row, after strong show of support to the publisher from author Richard Wright. He said to the editors who solicited his opinion on Brooks' work,

"There is no self-pity here, not a striving for effects. She takes hold of reality as it is and renders it faithfully...She easily catches the pathos of petty destinies; the whimper of the wounded; the tiny accidents that plague the lives of the desperately poor, and the problem of color prejudice among Negroes."[7]

The book earned instant critical acclaim for its authentic and textured portraits of life in Bronzeville. Brooks later said it was a glowing review by Paul Engle in the Chicago Tribune that "initiated My Reputation."[7] Engle stated that Brooks' poems were no more "Negro poetry" than Robert Frost's work was "white poetry." Brooks received her first Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946 and was included as one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine.

Brooks' second book of poetry, Annie Allen (1950), focused on the life and experiences of a young Black girl as she grew into womanhood in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; she also was awarded Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize.

Teaching

Brooks said her first teaching experience was at the University of Chicago when she was invited by author Frank London Brown to teach a course in American literature.[1] It was the beginning of her lifelong commitment to sharing poetry and teaching writing.

Brooks taught extensively around the country and held posts at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, City College of New York,[9] and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 1967 she attended a writers’ conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness.[10] 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 gave the keynote speech for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council's "Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction."

Archives

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) acquired Brooks' archives from her daughter Nora.[11] In addition, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has a collection of her personal papers, especially from 1950 to 1989.[12][13]

Personal life

In 1939 Brooks married Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. They had two children: Henry Lowington Blakely III, born on October 10, 1940; and Nora Blakely, born in 1951.

From mid-1961 to late-1964, Henry III served in the U.S. Marine Corps, first at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and then at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. During this time, Brooks mentored his fiancée, Kathleen Hardiman, today known as anthropologist Kathleen Rand Reed, in writing poetry. Upon his return, Blakely and Hardiman married in 1965.[7] Brooks had so enjoyed the mentoring relationship that she began to engage more frequently in that role with the new generation of young black poets.[7]

Death

Brooks died of cancer at the age of 83 on December 3, 2000, at her home on Chicago's South Side. She is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois.

Honors and legacy

Sara S. Miller's 1994 Bronze Portrait Bust Of Gwendolyn Brooks

Brooks also received more than 75 honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide.

Legacy

Bibliography

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e f
  8. ^ The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexander, Editor, 2005.
  9. ^ Although her biographer Kenny Jackson Williams lists this as Clay College of New York, there is otherwise no evidence that such a college ever existed. Other biographies show that Brooks did teach at City College of New York, and it is likely that "Clay College" is simply a typo for "City College".
  10. ^ The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, Oxford University Press, 1997; Gwendolyn Brooks biography by Kenny Jackson Williams, pp. 98–99.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Gwenddolyn Brooks Center, Chicago State University.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  21. ^

External links

  • Gwendolyn Brooks Online Resources at the Library of Congress
  • Gwendolyn Brooks Illinois Poet Laureate, State of Illinois
  • Henry Lyman, "Interview: Gwendolyn Brooks Captures Chicago 'Cool'", NPR
  • Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks at PoetryFoundation.org
  • Audio and Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Poets.org
  • Some poems by Brooks, Circle Brotherhood Association, SUNY Buffalo
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, Modern American Poetry
  • Online guide to the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers, The Bancroft Library
  • "The Book Writers" Poem, patterned after Brooks's "The Bean Eaters" and dedicated to Brooks and Haki R. Madhubuti
  • Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts
  • Gwendolyn Brooks at Find a Grave
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