Tomorrow’s Authortunities mail out will feature American poet, author, and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks born 106 years ago today on June 7, 1917. She was known for her work that often celebrated and examined the personal struggles of ordinary people in her community.
Brooks was the first child of David Anderson Brooks and Keziah (Wims) Brooks. Her father wanted to be a doctor but he traded that dream for another—to raise a family. He became a janitor for a music company. Her mother was a school teacher and a concert pianist trained in classical music.
When Brooks was just six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago during the Great Migration. From then on, Chicago remained her home and played a significant role in shaping her identity and her work. She referred to the city as her “headquarters” and stated that living there gave her a “multiplicity of characters to aspire for.”
Brooks began writing at an early age. Encouraged by her mother, she filled notebooks with careful rhymes and lofty meditations and started submitting poems to various publications. Her first poem was published in American Childhood when she was 13. By the time she graduated from high school in 1935, she was a regular contributor to The Chicago Defender.
Brooks didn’t feel the need to pursue a four-year college degree because she already knew she wanted to be a writer. “I am not a scholar,” she later said. “I’m just a writer who loves to write and will always write.”
In 1950, Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for “Annie Allen,” becoming the first African American to receive that award. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968, a position she held until her death 32 years later, and was named the U.S. Poet Laureate for the 1985–86 term. In 1976, she became the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Among her most notable works are “A Street in Bronzeville” (1945), “Annie Allen” (1949), “Maud Martha” (1953), “The Bean Eaters” (1960), “In the Mecca” (1968), and “Children Coming Home” (1991).
Gwendolyn Brooks’ legacy as a pioneering figure in American literature continues to inspire and influence writers and poets today. As we celebrate her birthday, we remember her remarkable life, her extraordinary talent, and her invaluable contributions to literature and society.