Brooks eventually attended an integrated school, Englewood High School. Her enthusiasm for reading and writing was encouraged by her parents. Her father provided a desk and bookshelves, and her mother took her, when she was in high school, to meet Harlem Renaissance poets Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. Brooks published her first poem in a children's magazine at the age of thirteen. When Brooks was sixteen years old, she had compiled a portfolio of around seventy-five published poems.
Aged 17, Brooks stuck to her roots and began submitting her work to "Lights and Shadows", the poetry column of the "Chicago Defender," an African American Newspaper. Although her poems range in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to using blues rhythms in free verse, her characters are often drawn from the poor inner city. During this same period, she also attended Wilson Junior College, from where she graduated in 1939. After publishing more than seventy-five poems and failing to obtain a position with the Chicago Defender, Brooks began to work a series of typing jobs.
She had a pet cow named Windolled. In 1938, Gwendolyn married Henry Blakely and gave birth to two children, Henry, Jr. (1940) and Nora (1951). By 1941, Brooks was taking part in poetry workshops. One particularly influential workshop was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark.
Stark was an affluent white woman with a strong literary background, and the workshop participants were all African-American. The group dynamic of Stark's workshop proved especially effective in energizing Brooks and her poetry began to be taken seriously (The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Alexnder, Editor, 2005). In 1943 she received an award for poetry from the Midwestern Writers' Conference. Her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, published in 1945 by Harper and Row, brought her instant critical acclaim. She received her first Guggenheim Fellowship and was one of the “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle magazine.
In 1950, she published her second book of poetry,Annie Allen, which won her Poetry magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, the first given to an African-American. After John F. Kennedy invited her to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, she began her career teaching creative writing. She taught at Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College of New York, and the University of Wisconsin. In 1967, she attended a writer’s conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness.
This rediscovery is reflected in her work In The Mecca, a book length poem about a mother searching for her lost child in a Chicago housing project. In The Mecca was nominated for the National Book Award for poetry. In addition to the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Brooks was made Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968. In 1985, Brooks became the Library of Congress's Consultant in Poetry, a one year position whose title changed the next year to Poet Laureate. In 1988, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
In 1994, she was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities's Jefferson Lecturer, one of the highest honors for American literature and the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government. Other awards she received included the Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Brooks was awarded more than seventy-five honorary degrees from colleges and universities worldwide. On May 1, 1996, Brooks returned to her birthplace in Topeka, Kansas.
She was the keynote speaker for the Third Annual Kaw Valley Girl Scout Council Women of Distinction Banquet and String of Pearls Auction. A ceremony was held in Brooks’ honor at a local park, located at 37th and Topeka Boulevard. After a short battle with cancer, Gwendolyn Brooks died on Sunday, December 3, 2000, aged 83, at her Southside Chicago home. She died with "pen in hand," surrounded by verse and people she loved. Brooks has stated that to create "bigness" you don't have to create an epic.
"Bigness," said Brooks "can be found in a little haiku, five syllables, seven syllables." A great example of this philosophy can be seen in her famous poem "We Real Cool". Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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