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Four Elements

Gwendolyn Brooks

by Synatra Smith, Ph.D. on 2021-04-22T12:00:00-04:00 in Black Artists | Comments

The African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks was born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, and moved with her family to Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood at the age of five. She began writing rhymes in a notebook at the age of seven and made her national debut at thirteen with the publication of her first poem entitled “Eventide” in American Child magazine. At seventeen she published “To the Hinderer” in the Chicago Defender and was a regular contributor to that publication by the time she graduated from high school. As a young person, Brooks corresponded with and was critiqued and mentored by such Harlem Renaissance writers as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James Weldon Johnson. Following her graduation from Chicago’s Woodrow Wilson Junior College (now Kennedy-King College) in 1936, she worked as a maid and secretary for two years, and then went on to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council in 1938.[1]

Brooks studied poetry and eventually taught creative writing on the South Side of Chicago. She published her first collection of poems, A Street in Bronzeville, in 1945 and was the first Black writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950 for Annie Allen (1949). She contributed to the New York Times, Negro Digest (later renamed Black World), and New York Herald Tribune from the 1940s through the 1960s.[2] She also reviewed books for the Chicago Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and New York Herald Tribune. Columbia College Chicago conferred an honorary human letters doctorate to her in 1964. To honor her legacy, the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center opened at Western Illinois University in Macomb in March 1970. She started an annual magazine called Black Position in 1971. In 1966 she suffered a mild coronary attack complicated by influenza and another heart seizure around Christmas of 1971 while she was teaching at City College of New York.[3] 

Brooks was appointed as an honorary Consultant in American Letters for the Library of Congress in 1973 and was a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress 1985-1986. She became the first Black woman elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1976. Gwendolyn Brooks Junior High School was dedicated on November 24, 1981 in Harvey, Illinois. Chicago State University opened the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing and started an MFA program in creative writing centered around Black writing in 1990. 

She died on December 3, 2000.[4] 


PMA Library




Jackson, Angela. 2017. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks. Boston: Beacon Press. 


King, Lovalerie. 2007. “Brooks, Gwendolyn (1917–2002).” In Encyclopedia of African-American Literature. Edited by Wilfred D. Samuels, Loretta Gilchrist Woodard, and Tracie Church Guzzio. New York: Facts On File.


Melhem, D. H. 1987. Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.




[1] Jackson 2017; King 2007; Melhem 1987.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Melhem 1987.

[4] Jackson 2017; King 2007; Melhem 1987.


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