GWENDOLYN BROOKS

GWENDOLYN BROOKS

b. 1917

Gwendolyn Brooks, the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning poet, was bom in Topeka, Kansas, but moved to the south side of Chicago when she was a month old. Her talent with words was marked at a very ear¬ ly age. By the age of seven, she could fill a page with verse. By the age of 13, these verses were good enough for publication.

“Eventide” was published in American Childhood magazine in 1930, and when she entered high school a year later, teach¬ ers like Langston Hughes (see no. 64) and James Weldon Johnson (see no. 36) were available to inspire and encourage her work. She graduated from Englewood High School in 1934 — the same year in which The Chicago Defender began to publish her poems weekly — and Wilson Junior College in 1936.

Brooks’ work won immediate recognition. The Midwestern Writer’s Conference awarded prizes to her each year from 1943 to 1946. Her first volume ofpoet¬ ry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), made her one of Made¬ moiselle magazine’s “10 women of the year,” and a Guggenheim Fellowship, awarded in 1946, made it possible for her to con¬ centrate on writing her second volume of poetry, Annie Allen, which won her the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

It has been said of Brooks’ work that her first volumes are exquisitely constructed poems full of craft, but only lightly engaged with the emotional lives ‘ of individuals. Later works, including The Bean Eaters (1960), Selected Poems (1963) and In the Mecca (1968), are said by Norris B. Clark to show a

dawning awareness of the social concerns of African-Americans. The next phase of her career, yielding Riot (1969), Family Pictures (1970), Aloneness (1971), and Beckonings (1975), he says are “less devoted to craft and more concerned about pronounced statements on a black mys¬ tique, the necessity of riot (violence), and black unity.”

Continuing to evolve as an artist, and also as a social critic, Brooks added Primer for Blacks in 1980, Mayor Harold Wash¬ ington and Chicago, The I Will City in 1983, The Near-Johannesburg Boys and Other Poems in 1986, Blacks in 1987, and Winnie in 1988.