Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. Her parents were David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims Brooks. Her mother had come home to Topeka from Chicago to give birth to her child. When Gwendolyn was one month old, the family returned to Chicago. Despite her extensive travels and periods in some of the major universities of the country, she has remained associated with the city’s South Side.
She was one of two children. Her brother, Raymond, became an artist.
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Encouraged by her parents, Gwendolyn began to write poetry at about age 7. When she was a teenager, her first poem she wrote ‘Eventide’ appeared in a well-known magazine of her time, called American Childhood. This was a first clue to her parents that she would soon become a famous writer or a poet. Brooks met the leading black writers James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, who told her to read modern poetry and eventually encouraged her to begin write poetry as a profession.
She continued to write poetry while attending school. More than 75 of her poems were printed in the Chicago Defender, a local newspaper. She originally went to an all-white school called Hyde Park High School but was then transferred to an all-black High school where she graduated from. The name of the school she graduated from was Englewood High School in 1934, she entered Wilson Junior College, where she majored in literature. She graduated in 1938, then worked as a typist until after she got married, in 1938, to Henry Lowington Blakely, a Chicago businessman. They had two children, a son, Henry Lowington, Jr., and a daughter, Nora.
Gwendolyn Brooks’s first book of poems, ‘A Street in Bronzeville’, was published in 1945. ‘Annie Allen’ (1949), a ballad of Chicago African American life, earned its author the Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1950.’Bronzeville Boys and Girls’, a book of children’s poems, was published in 1956. Gwendolyn Brooks’s other books of verse include ‘The Bean Eaters’ (1960), contains poems about the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi, lynching, and the integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. ‘Selected Poems’ (1963), ‘In the Mecca’ (1968), (“the Mecca” referring to a South Side apartment building) which included poems to Malcolm X, slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, and the Blackstone Rangers, a politicized Chicago street gang that became part of the Black Power Movement, ‘Riot’ (1969), ‘Blacks’ (1987; revised edition, 1991), and ‘Children Coming Home’ (1991). She also wrote an autobiographical novel, ‘Maud Martha’ (1953) a series of loosely connected sketches about a young African American woman from the South Side, and ‘Report from Part One’ (1972), a collection of personal memoirs, interviews, and letters.
Gwendolyn Brooks had many famous poems. An example of one is this:
WHEN YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN SUNDAY: THE LOVE STORY
That the war would be over before they got to you;
–And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes
Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday –
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping
Looking off down the long street
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front-room floor to the
ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies —
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the
flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Then gently folded into each other —
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
Then you may tell,
Then I may believe
You have forgotten me well.
Gwendolyn Brooks lectured and taught poetry at various colleges. She received numerous awards and honors for her poetry. In 1968 she succeeded the late Carl Sandburg as poet laureate of Illinois. 32 years later after such a huge success she died in the year 2000. Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was 83 years old when she died.
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