“Pulitzer Prize Author, Gwendolyn Brooks”
Mixed Media on Paper
11 inches x 14 inches
The Brooks family had strong ties to the civil rights movement as Brooks’ paternal grandfather escaped from the bonds of slavery in order to join the Union forces at the time of the American Civil War. Her family moved to Chicago during the Great Migration when Brooks was less than a year old. Her father worked as a janitor for a music company while her mother worked as a school teacher and concert pianist trained in classical music, teaching at Topeka school. Brooks’ mother also got deeply involved with the Brown V. Board of Education racial desegregation case. Attending both a predominantly white student body (Hyde Park High School) and another all-black school (Wendell Philips High School), she finished her high school education at the integrated school of Englewood High School due to complicated social dynamics and racial injustices.
“You are going to be the Lady Paul Laurence Dunbar,” Brooks’ mother told her when she started writing at a young age, submitting poems to several publishers such as The Chicago Defender even after her high school graduation. She continued to work as a typist as a side hustle after graduating from a two-year program at Wilson Junior College (now Kennedy-King College). Brooks pursued a live of active creativity through joining Chicago’s NAACP Youth Council and met her her husband, Henry Lowington Blakely (who later served in the U.S. Marine Corps). Drawing her poems and writings from experiences in the inner city, Brook wrote ballads and sonnets with the use of blues rhythms and free verse. This gained the attention of James Weldon Johnson, critiquing one of her works after receiving them in dispatch. Langston Hughes also stopped by her poetry workshops that was organized by Inez Cunningham Stark, who also offered writing workshops at South aside Community Art Center.
Two of her poems were published in Poetry Magazine’s November issue, “A Street in Bronzeville (1945)” was a poetry book published by Harper and Brothers (supported and reviewed by Richard Wright), and received a high-praising review from Paul Engle in the Chicago Tribune. The Guggenheim Fellowship was received a year after; included in the issue of “Ten Young Women of the Year” in Mademoiselle Magazine. Her second book of poetry “Annie Allen (1949)” was published—emphasizing the hard experiences of a young black girl and her development into a woman. A year later, this book won the Poetry Magazine’s Eunice Tietjens Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
She continued to mentor black youth in the art of writing at the University of Chicago and collaborating with activists and artists alike such as Imamu Amiri Baraka and Don L. Lee at the Black Writer’s Conference after the passing of Langston Hughes. She published a novella called “Maud Martha (1953)” depicting a series of vignettes with the title protagonist’s growing into womanhood, highlighting her insecurities as a black youth. “Maud Martha” still continues to be explored and reviewed for its content of sexism and racial bias the protagonist experiences. Another elongated poem/novel she wrote called “In the Mecca (1968)” gained nomination for the National Book Award. She wrote several writings into the age of 80.