A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Gwendolyn Brooks’s Annie Allen (1949) was the first book by a black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize. In A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, George F. Kent shows that her unique development as an Afro-American writer probably contributed directly to her unusual success at a fairly young age. Born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 7, 1917, Brooks was reared in a strong, middle-class family. Though her parents struggled through the Depression in Chicago, they had settled there early enough to be well-established homeowners before the hard times arrived, and they were tenacious enough to keep the family together without resort to welfare when her father’s salary fell during the 1930’s. Strongly committed to education, her family saw her through Wilson Junior College by 1937 and supported her artistic aspirations throughout her youth.
This solid and stable background gave Brooks what she later characterized as an illusory optimism about life, upon which she based much of her youthful self-confidence. After her marriage in 1939 to Henry Lowington Blakely, whom she met when she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1937, she discovered a different life. Her struggle with comparative poverty, motherhood, the losses of friends in World War II, and the many pains of prejudice and racism gradually qualified her optimism, clarified her vision, and radicalized her poetry and politics. This was a slow process,...
(The entire section is 1866 words.)
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