Gwendolyn Brooks Additional Biography


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

The parents of Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, a janitor and schoolteacher, encouraged the young girl’s literary gifts and provided a loving home and an excellent education for her and her younger brother. As a high school student, Brooks received advice from African American poets James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. After attending Wilson Junior College, she studied poetic technique in the Southside Community Art Center, where she read modern British and American poetry and began seriously to consider a career as a writer. She married Henry Blakely in 1939 and is the mother of two children. Her early poetry, which centered on African American life in Chicago, was written in conventional style in the European American tradition. Brooks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for her second collection of poetry, Annie Allen (1949).

The 1960’s

The year 1967 was a turning point in Brooks’s creative work. Although themes of black consciousness appeared in her 1960 collection, The Bean Eaters, Brooks’s awakening came at the Black Writers Conference at Fisk University in 1967, where she met younger African American writers committed to the Black Power movement. From that time, she directed her poetry to an audience of African Americans. In the Mecca (1968), an experimental work, departed from her previous expression in fixed forms and described with compassion, often bitter humor laced with irony, the desperate lives of poor African Americans in Chicago. Riot (1969) was a response to the death of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Some critics found these works darkly pessimistic, but Brooks believed they reflected her new vision of herself as a black woman writer whose audience was African Americans.

Although Brooks never considered herself a political writer, critics agree that her work in the 1960’s and beyond reflected not only a growing sophistication in her craft but also an increasingly revolutionary stance. Brooks has described her creative vision as a positive celebration of blackness. After 1967, she published exclusively with African American presses. As a result of her worldwide travel, including visits to Africa, her poetry expresses international themes and a special concern with the lives of children. Brooks became the poet laureate of Illinois in 1968, succeeding Carl Sandburg.

Later Life

Brooks was elected to the National...

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(Poets and Poetry in America)

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks’s poetry bears the strong impress of Chicago, particularly of the predominantly black South Side where she lived most of her life. Although she was born in Topeka, Kansas, Brooks was taken to Chicago before she was a year old. In many ways, she devoted her career to the physical, spiritual, and, later, political exploration of her native city.

Brooks’s life and writings are frequently separated into two phases, with her experience at the 1967 Black Writers’ Conference at Fisk University in Nashville serving as a symbolic transition. Before the conference, Brooks was known primarily as the first black Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry. Although not politically unaware, she held to a...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shortly after Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born, her family moved to Chicago, where she grew up and later made her home. During the 1930’s, Brooks received her associate degree in literature and arts from Wilson Junior College and served as publicity director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council in Chicago. She married in 1939 and had two children. She and her husband separated in 1969 but were reconciled in 1973.

A major voice in contemporary American poetry, Brooks published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, in 1945. Here she introduces themes that occupied her throughout her life: racism and poverty, life in the American family, the...

(The entire section is 730 words.)