Gwendolyn Brooks was born 100 years today ago on June 7, 1917. She was a prolific and well-decorated poet, holding the distinction of being the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize. Brooks was born in Kansas but raised in Chicago, where she continued to live for the rest of her life. Her poetry reflected her observations of the people she lived around.
Brooks’ first poem was published when she was only 13 years old. From there she built an impressive body of work about Black American life. Her first book of poems, titled A Street in Bronzeville (1945) features slice-of-life poems based on characters living in the eponymous town. These relatable narratives were her signature. She experimented with different styles of poetry such as sonnets, epic poems, and free verse. Later in her career, Brooks’ work took on a more political tone. She left the Harper and Row Publishing house in order to work with Black publishers.
Gwendolyn Brooks remains one of the foremost American poets. In addition to her Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (1950 for Annie Allen), she was a Guggenheim Fellow (1946), the Poet Laureate of the United States (1985), and the recipient of a National Medal of Arts (1995). Brooks was the Poet Laureate of Illinois from 1968 until her death in 2000. She has received numerous other awards and honors as well as over 50 honorary degrees.
Hear Brooks discuss her popular poem “We Real Cool” below and be sure to visit our Literary Events Calendar for upcoming celebrations of the written word.