September 27, 1950:
On this day Gwendolyn Brooks became the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry, Annie Allen. This wasn’t her only first that she accomplished. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first Black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Also, In 1976, she became the first Black woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Gwendolyn Brooks is one of the most highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community. Her body of work gave her, according to critic George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young Black militant writers of the 1960s.”
Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas and at six weeks old was taken to Chicago, where she lived the rest of her life. Her parents, especially her mother, encouraged her poetry writing. She began submitting poems to various publications as a teenager. After graduating high school during the Great Depression, she took a two-year junior college program, worked as a typist, married, and had children. Continuing to write and submit her work, she finally found substantial outlets for her poetry. This recognition of her work also led her to lecturing and teaching aspiring writers. Being the winner of multiple awards for her writing, several schools and institutions have been named in her honor.
Gwendolyn Brooks died at her Chicago home on December 3, 2000.