Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (June 7, 1917 – December 3, 2000) became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985.
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. When Brooks was six weeks old, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois during the Great Migration; from then on, Chicago was her hometown. She went by the nickname “Gwendie” among her close friends.
Her home life was stable and loving, although she encountered racial prejudice in her neighborhood and in schools. She attended Hyde Park High School, the leading white high school in the city, before transferring to the all-black Wendell Phillips. Brooks eventually attended an integrated school, Englewood High School. In 1936 she graduated from Wilson Junior College. These four schools gave her a perspective on racial dynamics in the city that continued to influence her work.
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. Her poems, many published while she attended Wilson Junior College, ranged in style from traditional ballads and sonnets to poems using blues rhythms in free verse. Her characters were often drawn from the poor of the inner city. After failing to obtain a position with the Chicago Defender, Brooks took a series of secretarial 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, all of whose participants were African American, energized Brooks. Her poetry began to be taken seriously. 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 to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, 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 writers’ conference at Fisk University where, she said, she rediscovered her blackness. 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.
In 1939 Brooks married Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. They had two children: Henry Lowington Blakely III, born on October 10, 1940; and Nora Blakely, born in 1951.
Brooks died of cancer at the age of 83 on December 3, 2000, at her home on Chicago’s South Side. She is buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois.
Excerpted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwendolyn_Brooks
One Wants a Teller in a Time Like This
One wants a teller in a time like this
One’s not a man, one’s not a woman grown
To bear enormous business all alone.
One cannot walk this winding street with pride
Knowing one knows for sure the way back home.
One wonders if one has a home.
One is not certain if or why or how.
One wants a Teller now:
Put on your rubbers and you won’t catch a cold
Here’s hell, there’s heaven. Go to Sunday School
Be patient, time brings all good things-(and cool
Stong balm to calm the burning at the brain?)
Love’s true, and triumphs; and God’s actual.