Celebrating Gwendolyn Brooks

Photo from Library of Congress

Photo from Library of Congress

Ryan Choe

[dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]G[/dropcap]wendolyn Brooks was born June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, but later moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was just six weeks old. Growing up in Chicago, Brooks soon gained a keen interest in writing literature. She attended three different high schools, which helped her understand the social and racial dynamics of the United States. Her years spent at the integrated Hyde Park High School, all-black Wendell Phillips Academy High School and integrated Englewood High School would go on to influence her writing.
In 1936, Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College, having already begun to write and publish her work. Nine years later in 1945, her fame and recognition took off.
In 1945, Brooks had her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, published by Harper and Row. The book brought her instant critical acclaim, and she was later selected one of Mademoiselle magazine’s “Ten Young Women of the Year.”
A reason why Brooks became a renowned post-World War I American poet is because her writing portrayed vivid depictions of the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community, especially African Americans. During her time, Brooks wrote 35 books, including the Pulitzer prize-winning Annie Allen. The book, which was published in 1949, won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, making her the first African American ever to win the award. Brooks passed away in her Chicago home on Dec. 3, 2000.

“Look at what’s happening in this world. Every day there’s something exciting or disturbing to write about. With all that’s going on, how could I stop?”

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Brooks became the recipient of a number of awards, fellowships and honorary degrees. President John F. Kennedy invited her to read at a Library of Congress poetry festival in 1962, and she would eventually be appointed as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1985.
In 1994, Brooks was selected by the National Endowment for the Humanities as the 1994 Jefferson Lecturer. It is the most prestigious award in the humanities given by the federal government, and it helped cement Brooks as one of the most inspiring and influential black poets in American history.
Brooks’ poem, “My Dreams, My Works, Must Wait Till After Hell”.
I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep my eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.