Gwendolyn Brooks

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) was born on June 7th in Topeka, Kansas. Brooks’ family moved to Chicago when she was very young and she remained there for much of her life, later becoming a frequent contributor to local and regional publications and programs. She was chosen as the Illinois Poet Laureate in 1948 and was the first African-American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Brooks began writing poetry at an early age and was first published at age 13. She would go on to write more than twenty books of poetry as well as other books, such as her novel, Maud Martha a look at racial and ethnic identity’s impact on day-to-day life. Brooks frequently incorporated her experiences and observations of minority urban life in her poetry as well, as in this well-known poem:

We Real Cool
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Throughout her life, Gwendolyn Brooks’ work and career was subject to much debate, including the question: did she sacrifice content and style for political statement? Reading through her work answers with a resounding “no”. Brooks’ use of the modern vernacular, coupled with the head-on approach to many social issues makes her work important and influential, not only to the people she portrayed/represented in her writing, but to other young writers as well. Brooks herself was encouraged by poets James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, and later became a role model and mentor to many young poets through her own teaching, speaking and philanthropical endeavors.

Quote: “Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.” –Gwendolyn Brooks (I think we’re all glad she did.)

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