Born June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, Gwendolyn Brooks came to Chicago at six weeks old, her family bringing her to the city as part of the Great Migration. For the rest of her life, her identity and her work would be greatly influenced by Chicago.
Brooks attended Forestville Elementary School, going on to Hyde Park High School. While integrated, it was predominantly white. From there she transferred to Wendell Phillips High, which was all-black. She ultimately finished high school at Englewood High, and graduated from a two-year program at Wilson Junior College.
A writer from an early age, her first poem was published when she was 13, and by the time she graduated high school she was a regular contributor to the Chicago Defender. Her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, was published in 1945. It gained instant acclaim and garnered glowing reviews, and led her to win a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Four years later Brooks published her second book of poetry, Annie Allen. This would lead her to win the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, making her the first African-American to win a Pulitzer. From there the prizes and honors would flow in for the rest of her life.
Alongside writing, Brooks taught extensively, both in and outside of Chicago, holding posts at Columbia College Chicago, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, as well as other institutions.
In 1968, she was appointed the Poet Laureate of Illinois, a post which she would remain in until her death in 2000. In 1988, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2010 she was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. Numerous schools and parks in Chicago are named after her. These are but a few of the accomplishments of this amazing woman.
- Chicago Literary Hall of Fame profile
- Poetry Foundation profile
- Poets.org profile
- Poetry Archive profile
- Goodreads profile