Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Chicagoan Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet, (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 named poet laureate of the State of Illinois in 1968.
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.

Legacy and Honors
1968, appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois.
1985, selected as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an honorary one-year position whose title changed the next year to Poet Laureate. 
1988, inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. 
1994, chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecturer, one of the highest honors in American literature and the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government. 
1995, presented with the National Medal of Arts. 
1995, honored as the first Woman of the Year chosen by the Harvard Black Men's Forum. 

Other awards she received included: The Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Illinois Schools Named After Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School at 250 E 111th St, Chicago, Illinois.
Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School at 325 S Kenilworth Ave, Oak Park, Illinois. 
Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School at 14741 Wallace St, Harvey, Illinois.
Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School at 2700 Stonebridge Blvd., Aurora, Illinois.

Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School at 3225 Sangamon Rd, DeKalb, Illinois.

Brooks also received more than seventy-five honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide. 

One of many famous poems:
Kitchenette Building

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan, Grayed in, and gray. "Dream" mate, a giddy sound, not strong Like "rent", "feeding a wife", "satisfying a man."

But could a dream sent up through onion fumes Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes And yesterday's garbage ripening in the hall, Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms,

Even if we were willing to let it in, Had time to warm it, keep it very clean, Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute! Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now, We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

Gwendolyn Brooks
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. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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