Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (b. June 7, 1917 – d. December 3, 2000) was an award-winning poet who rose to popularity from her politically conscious poems on urban life. She is noted for her ability to transform ordinary stories about everyday people into something extraordinary. Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas but was raised in Chicago, Illinois.
Her talents were displayed from an early age, and she published her first poem at the age of 13. By 17 years old, Brooks published poems frequently in the Chicago Defender. She attended junior college and began developing her craft with the help of poetry workshops. Her poems focused on African American life and experiences. These early poems comprised her first collection, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), which was well received by audiences.
Following the success of her first collection, Brooks published Annie Allen in 1949. It told the story of an African American girl growing up in Chicago through a series of poems. Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she was the first African American to be awarded this prize. She went on to publish her first novel, Maud Martha (1953), and channeled a similar theme from the story told in Annie Allen.
Brooks began to take a more politic focus as her later works progressed. In 1968, she published In the Mecca, which included poems such as “Boy Breaking Glass” and “Malcolm X.” She was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois during the same year. Her activism and passion for urban literature pushed her to seek out Black owned publishing companies and leave Harper & Row, the major publisher she was working with.
In 1985, she became the first black woman appointed as a consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. Brooks was also awarded the lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989. By 1990, she decided to teach a new generation of writers by taking a position as an English professor at Chicago State University.
Over the course of her career, Brooks published a highly esteemed novel, and more than a dozen poetry books. She died on December 3, 2000.