Brooks, Gwendolyn

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Brooks, Gwendolyn

Poet, writer. Born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. Throughout most of the twentieth century, Gwendolyn Brooks was a lyrical chronicler of the black urban experience in America. In 1950, she became the first African-American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Brooks grew up on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. She began writing poetry as a young girl, and by the age of 16 had begun publishing her poems regularly in The Chicago Defender. She attended the Woodrow Wilson Junior College in Chicago before marrying a fellow writer, Henry L. Blakely, in 1939. The couple lived together in Chicago, divorcing in 1969 but reuniting in 1973. They had two children, Nora Brooks Blakely and Henry Blakely Jr.

Brooks earned a good deal of critical attention in 1945 with the publication of her first anthology of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville. (“Bronzeville” was Brooks’ name for the predominately African-American South Side of Chicago.) Over the next several years, Brooks won a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and several fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation.

She published her second volume of verse, Annie Allen, in 1949. The book, which followed a Bronzeville girl throughout the stages of her life, was written in a loose, experimental form that Brooks called the “sonnet-ballad.” Annie Allen won the Pulitzer Prize the following year, catapulting Brooks to a whole new level of literary and popular acclaim.

A novel, Maud Martha (1953),...