Gwendolyn Brooks | 2012 Legacy Honoree

SOURCE : Wikepedia
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims.

Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of thirteen. By the time she was sixteen, she had compiled a portfolio of around 75 published poems. At seventeen, she started submitting her work to "Lights and Shadows", the poetry column of the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper. Although her poems ranged in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to using blues rhythms in free verse, her characters were often drawn from the poor of the inner city. During this same period, she also attended Wilson Junior College, from where she graduated in 1936. After failing to obtain a position with the Chicago Defender, Brooks began to work a series of typing jobs.

By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. A particularly influential one was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark, an affluent white woman with a strong literary background. The group dynamic of Stark's workshop, in which all the participants were African American, energized Brooks. Her poetry began to be taken seriously.[4]. In 1943 she received an award for poetry from the Midwestern Writers' Conference.
Brooks' first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), published by Harper and Row, earned instant critical acclaim. She received her first Guggenheim Fellowship and was included as one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine. With her second book of poetry, Annie Allen (1950), she became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; she also was awarded Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize.

After President John F. Kennedy invited Brooks in 1962 to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival, she began a second career teaching creative writing. She taught at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 1967, she attended a writer’s conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness.[citation needed] This rediscovery is reflected in her work In The Mecca (1968), a long poem about a mother searching for her lost child in a Chicago apartment building. In The Mecca was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry.

On May 1, 1996 Brooks returned to her birthplace of Topeka, Kansas. She was invited as the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council's "Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction." A ceremony was held in Brooks’ honor at a local park at 37th and Topeka Boulevard.


In 1939, Brooks married Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. They had two children together: Henry Lowington Blakely jr., born October 10, 1940; and Nora Blakely, born in 1951. From mid-1961 to late-1964, Henry III served in the U.S. Marine Corps, first at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and then at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. During this time, Brooks mentored his fiancee, Kathleen Hardiman today known as anthropologist, Kathleen Rand Reed, in writing poetry. Upon his return, Blakely and Hardiman married in 1965.[1] Brooks had so enjoyed the mentoring relationship that she began to engage more frequently in that role with the new generation of young black poets.