Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. When she was only six years old, the Brooks family moved to Chicago, Illinois as part of the Great Migration of Black families migrating to the North and West from the American South. ‘Gwendie’–as she was known by friends and family–began writing at an early age.
Brooks published her first poem in a children’s magazine at the age of 13. By the time she was 16, she had published nearly 75 poems and was sending her poetry to the Chicago Defender, a prominent Black-owned newspaper.
Brooks attended three different high schools, two of which were integrated. While attending the integrated Hyde Park High School and Englewood High School, she experienced a great deal of racial prejudice. The prejudice that she experienced shaped her understanding of social dynamics and later influenced her writing.
After graduating high school, Brooks attended Wilson Junior College. She graduated from Wilson College in 1936 and had already begun publishing her work. During this time, she worked as a secretary in order to support herself while developing her poetry. She participated in poetry workshops and received an award from the Midwestern Writer’s Conference in 1943.
Brooks published her first book of poetry, titled ‘A Street in Bronzeville.’ Her book was an instant success and it secured her a Guggenheim Fellowship among other honors. Four years later, she published her second book, titled ‘Annie Allen’ (1949). Her second book secured her the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
Although continuing to write, Brooks embarked on a teaching career in the early 1960s. She began teaching creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago, Chicago State University, and Northeastern Illinois University among others.
‘We Real Cool’
In 1960, Brooks published her third book of poetry, titled ‘The Bean Eaters.’ This collection included one of her most famous poems, ‘We Real Cool.’ This poem explores youth, rebellion, and morality which resonated with her readers. In 1968, she published a long poem, titled ‘In the Mecca,’ which secured her a nomination for the National Book Award in poetry.
For the most part, Brooks focused more on teaching in her later years. She was diagnosed with cancer as a senior citizen. Gwendolyn Brooks later died as a result of her cancer on December 3, 2000. She was 83 years old. Brooks is praised today as a captivating and inspiring Black poet.
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