Tuesday, March 8, 2016



   Gwendolyn Brooks is the beloved poet and writer that everyone who has read children's books knows and appreciates. Every school librarian has her books in her library.  Or should.  Fortunately there is no shortage of information about this prodigious and courageous writer who was born in Kansas in 1917 but was a Chicagoan from very early in her life and thereafter associated with the South Side.

   "Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, though she spent most of her life on Chicago’s south side, whose Bronzeville neighborhood she memorialized in her poetry. She received the Pulitzer Prize — the first African American so honored — for Annie Allen in 1950. At age 68 Brooks was the first black woman appointed Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Later she served as Poet Laureate of Illinois, personally funding literary award ceremonies and visiting grade schools, colleges, universities, prisons, hospitals, and drug rehabilitation centers. She was devoted to encouraging young people to write.

   Gwendolyn Brooks grew up in Chicago in a poor yet stable and loving family. Her father was a janitor who had hoped to become a doctor; her mother a teacher and classically trained pianist. Brooks was thirteen when her first published poem, 'Eventide', appeared in American Childhood; by seventeen she had published a number of poems in Chicago Defender, a newspaper serving Chicago's black population. She attended the leading white high school in Illinois, but transferred to an all-black school, then to an integrated school. In 1936 she graduated from Wilson Junior College. These four academies gave her a perspective on racial dynamics in the city, which was to influence the rest of her writing life."

   "While working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she developed her poetic craft, publishing her first collection A Street in Bronzeville in 1945. In this book, which bought her instant critical acclaim, Brooks chronicles the everyday lives, aspirations, and disappointments of the ordinary black people in her own neighborhood. The book also explores the unfair treatment of blacks in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

   "Brooks was celebrated as a major new voice in contemporary poetry for her technical expertise, innovative use of imagery and idiom, and new perspective on the lives of African Americans. She was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, and Mademoiselle magazine named her one of its "Ten Women of the Year."

   "In 1949, she became the first ever black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize with Annie Allen which tells the story of a black woman's passage from childhood to adulthood, against a backdrop of poverty and discrimination. In Saturday Review of Literature, Starr Nelson proclaimed the collection: "a work of art and a poignant social document." and Langston Hughes commented: "the people and poems in Gwendolyn Brooks' book are alive, reaching, and very much of today."

   "After attending the Second Black Writers' Conference at Fisk University in 1967, Brooks' work took a more overtly political stance and shows a deepening concern with social problems. Toni Cade Bambara wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "something happened to Brooks, a something most certainly in evidence in In the Mecca and subsequent works—a new movement and energy, intensity, richness, power of statement and a new stripped lean, compressed style. A change of style prompted by a change of mind." In the seventies, Brookes left the major publishing house Harper & Row, in favour of new Black publishing companies – although this should not be taken as a sign that her work was universally acclaimed by its Black readership. Her autobiography Report from Part One (1972) did not provide the insight that some reviewers had expected – prompting Brooks to reply: "They wanted a list of domestic spats." Other critics praised the book for explaining the poet's new orientation toward her racial heritage and her role as a poet."

   "Gwendolyn Brooks was sixty-eight when she became the first black woman to be appointed to be poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Of her many duties, the most important, in her view, were visits to local schools. Similarly, visits to colleges, universities, prisons, hospitals, and drug rehabilitation centers characterized her tenure as poet laureate of Illinois. In recognition of her service and achievements, a junior high school in Harvey, Illinois, was named for her, and she was also honored by Western Illinois University's Gwendolyn Brooks Center for African-American Literature."

A concise bio from Afropoets.net   - "Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917 and raised in Chicago. She is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991); Blacks (1987); To Disembark (1981); The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (1986); Riot (1969); In the Mecca (1968); The Bean Eaters (1960); Annie Allen (1949), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize; and A Street in Bronzeville (1945). She also wrote numerous other books including a novel, Maud Martha (1953), and Report from Part One: An Autobiography (1972), and edited Jump Bad: A New Chicago Anthology (1971). In 1968 she was named Poet Laureate for the state of Illinois, and from 1985-86 she was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000."

Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes

Poetry Foundation - http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/gwendolyn-brooks 
Academy of American Poets - https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/gwendolyn-brooks 
From the Oxford Companion to African-American Literature - http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/brooks/life.htm  
Biography.com - http://www.biography.com/people/gwendolyn-brooks-9227599 
Poetry Out Loud - http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poet/gwendolyn-brooks 
Poetry Archive - interview - http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/gwendolyn-brooks 
Afropoets - http://www.afropoets.net/gwendolynbrooks.html 
Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwendolyn_Brooks 

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