Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet, Chicagoan. 1917-2000

Gwendolyn Brooks was a highly regarded, much-honored poet, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress  the first black woman to hold that position  and poet laureate of the State of Illinois.
A 32 year old housewife and part time secretary has won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her second book of poetry "Annie Allen," published in 1949, a ballad of Chicago Negro life. The first woman to capture one of the famed awards, she is the mother of a 9-year-old boy and the wife of Henry Blakely, partner in an auto repair shop.
Many of Brooks' 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. Her body of work gave her, according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor George E. Kent, "a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s."

Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, but her family moved to Chicago when she was young. Her father was a janitor who had hoped to become a doctor; her mother was a schoolteacher and classically trained pianist. They were supportive of their daughter's passion for reading and writing. Brooks was thirteen when her first published poem, "Eventide," appeared in American Childhood; by the time she was seventeen she was publishing poems frequently in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper serving Chicago's black population. After such formative experiences as attending junior college and working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she developed her craft in poetry workshops and began writing the poems, focusing on urban blacks, that would be published in her first collection, A Street in Bronzeville.

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, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. 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. 

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