Gwendolyn Brooks

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Gwendolyn Brooks 

On June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas the great Gwendolyn Brooks was born. She was the first child of David and Keziah Brooks. At just six weeks old, during the great migration, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois. During her grade school career Gwendolyn attended three different high schools Hyde Park a top white high school, Wendell Phillips an all-black school, and   Englewood High School. She also began her career as writer and published her first poem “Eventide”, which was published in American Childhood Magazine. This feat was accomplished by the age of 13. Gwendolyn was highly influenced by James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, after meeting them she was encouraged to read modern poetry and write every day. Within the next three years she published at least 100 poems as an adjunct member of the Chicago Defender.

After graduating high school she attended Wilson Junior College, which she graduated in 1936. Her early school experiences helped mold her into a great writer. In 1938 Gwendolyn became involved with a group of writers who wrote for Harriet Monroe’s still-extant Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, she also married Henry Blakely and by 1951 they had two children, Henry, Jr. and Nora. In 1943 she won the Midwestern Writers Conference Poetry Award. In 1945 she became an award winning author with her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, which immediately brought her critical acclaim and she was later selected as one of Mademoiselle Magazine’s “Ten Young Women of the Year”. She also won her first Guggenheim Fellowship, and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1949 she published her second book of poems, Annie Allen, which won Poetry Magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize. In 1950 she received the Pulitzer Prize and became the first African America to win the award. Gwendolyn continued to pile up awards until she died; she even managed to receive an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters.

In 1962 Gwendolyn Brooks was invited to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival by President John F. Kennedy. Later in 1985 she was appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. In 1994 Gwendolyn was selected by National Endowment for the Humanities as the Jefferson Lecturer; this award is the highest award given by the Federal Government in humanities. She began teaching in 1963 at a poetry workshop at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois. She also taught creative writing at a plethora of schools such as; Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin. In 1967 Brooks awakened the activist in her business life and in her personal life; she attended the Second Black Writers’ Conference and was inspired to become a part of the Black Arts Movement. She became a visible and powerful ally for the Black Arts Movement; she also broke loose from major publishing companies to black owned publishing companies. Critics say her writing also took on a different tone as she became more of a leader in the movement. Gwendolyn died December 3, 2000 of cancer in Chicago, Illinois. She was a dedicated Chicagoan, writer and champion for African equality in the Arts. Gwendolyn was a success from her first piece of writing until her death. Miss Gwendolyn Brooks, we stand on your shoulders.

J.A. Ward.

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