Welcome to the first (of many I hope) installment of my “Poet of the Month” series. I love poetry and I have been realizing lately that not only have I not been diving into the poetry world as much as I would like to, but that there is also so much that I don’t know about the poets themselves. Each month, I will choose a poet (I am VERY open to recommendations) that I will highlight throughout the month, beginning with a brief bio. I will feature poems I particular love of that poet’s throughout the month, and end with a reflection. Keep in mind, that my bio posts (such as today’s) will include the highlights, and I will always share further resources to learn more about the poet.
Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas. Her family would move to Chicago’s south side shortly after her birth. Her mother Keziah, was a teacher before Gwendolyn’s birth and her father, David, was a janitor and the son of a runaway slave. Both of her parents encouraged their daughter’s creativity from a young age.
Gwendolyn grew up in Chicago’s thriving creative community. She wrote from a young age, went to junior college, and began working. She soon met and married Henry Blakely, who was also a poet. While both worked hard at their poetry, they also worked at other jobs in order to make money. They enjoyed a thriving and lively social life filled with other writers, poets, and artists, many of them quite well-known. Their first child, a son named Henry Jr., was born in 1940. In 1941, she joined an all-Black poetry workshop where the poets studied Poetry magazine and Modernist poets, as well as listening to and critiquing each other’s works. Gwendolyn published her first collection of poems, A Street in Bronzeville (Harper & Brothers) in 1945.
In 1949, Brooks published her second book of poems called Annie Allen. In it, she invented a form called the “anniad” for her heroine, a “plain black girl” (Introduction to Gwendolyn Brooks). The name was drawn from the “Iliad” and the “Aeneid.” For this book, Gwendolyn won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, and was the first Black person to be honored with the award.
Gwendolyn Brooks looked to her neighborhood, her community, for inspiration. In her autobiography, she said,
“If you wanted a poem, you only had to look out of a window. There was material always, walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.”Poets.org
She did not write in a single style, instead experimenting with many forms of poetry including, but not limited to, sonnets, ballads, free verse, full and off-rhymes. Her writing encompasses a wide range of topics: poverty, everyday life, notable figures, and political, social, and racial issues. Elizabeth Alexander, in her essay “An Introduction to Gwendolyn Brooks” says this, “Brooks was always clear in her work about who Black people were and what it meant to write about them.” (Poets.org)
*I’m going to go through the rest in short points but know that her life was rich and interesting and includes much more detail than I can hope to capture here. At the end, I will include links to sites that can give you even more information about her, as well as a bibliography of her works.*
1957: Second child, daughter Nora, was born
1960: Published “The Bean-Eaters”
1963: Began teaching
1968-2000: Served as the Poet Laureate of Illinois
1985: Appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress; first Black woman to be appointed the post
2000: Died at 83, in December
Throughout her life, she received numerous awards and fellowships, along with holding honorary degrees from a multitude of colleges and universities. She consistently worked to provide for and assist young poets and writers, as well as for those in her community.
Links for Further Information:
Selected Bibliography (courtesy of Poets.org)
Children Coming Home (The David Co., 1991)
Winnie (The David Co., 1988)
Blacks (The David Co., 1987)
The Near-Johannesburg Boy and Other Poems (The David Co., 1986)
To Disembark (Third World Press, 1981)
Beckonings (Broadside Press, 1975)
Aurora (Broadside Press, 1972)
Aloneness (Broadside Press, 1971)
The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (Harper & Row, 1971)
Riot (Broadside Press, 1970)
Family Pictures (Broadside Press, 1970)
In the Mecca (Harper & Row, 1968)
The Wall (Broadside Press, 1967)
We Real Cool (Broadside Press, 1966)
Selected Poems (Harper & Row, 1963)
The Bean Eaters (Harper, 1960)
Bronzeville Boys and Girls (Harper, 1956)
Annie Allen (Harper, 1949)
A Street in Bronzeville (Harper & Brothers, 1945)
Primer for Blacks (Black Position Press, 1981)
Young Poet’s Primer (Brooks Press, 1981)
A Capsule Course in Black Poetry Writing (Broadside Press, 1975)
Report from Part One: An Autobiography (Broadside Press, 1972)
Maud Martha (Harper, 1953)