Many great black authors, such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, achieved great success during the Harlem Renaissance, but one less commonly celebrated woman is Gwendolyn Brooks. She became a published poet at just thirteen years old and made history throughout her entire lifetime (Bates). Being a prominent black female poet is already an achievement of its own accord considering the era, but Brooks’s life is even more interesting when analyzed beyond the surface.
Gwendolyn Brooks is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Annie Allen and one of the most celebrated Black poets.
Gwendolyn Brooks was born into a family of readers. Her father was a janitor with the dream of becoming a doctor, and her mother was a teacher and pianist. Unsurprisingly, Brooks had her own aspirations and wanted to start writing poetry when she was just a little girl.
Her mother heavily encouraged and supported her on her journey, and Brooks was first published at thirteen years old in American Childhood (Poetry Foundation). During her career formation, she was also encouraged by renowned icons such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. By the time she was seventeen, she had been routinely publishing her works in the Chicago Defender.
This success with her publications in the famous Chicago Defender helped Brooks pave her way to earning the Pulitzer Prize.
The first note of the importance of Brooks’s receival of the Pulitzer Prize is that she was the first African American to receive the honor. The fact that she was a woman added to the power of her achievement. Along with the fame from the Pulitzer Prize, Brooks also received an influx of money. Known for her kindness, Brooks did not hesitate to share her success with others.
First indulging her children with lavish Christmas presents, she went on to establish money prizes for aspiring poets and wanted to spread her joy and success in the field of poetry and was able to do so with her Pulitzer reward. Following her major success of winning the Pulitzer Prize, she received another honor with her work titled “In the Mecca” (1968). This work was nominated for a National Book Award in poetry. After Brooks was able to live her dream of being a poet and being a successful one at that, she wanted to travel the world to educate herself further.
Inspiration from Others
Gwendolyn Brooks traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to educate herself in academia and life (Bates). She wanted to connect with her heritage and was enlightened by her voyage through the African countries. Her poem “To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals” was inspired by the women in Africa who wore their hair naturally rather than attempting to flatten and straighten it with products and tools.
Upon returning to the United States, Brooks was inspired to stop straightening her hair to fit in with society. Ultimately, she lived quite a full life and continues to inspire people today, especially young black women. Even after her passing, Brooks received honorary degrees from various universities, totaling over 70 degrees. This reflects the influence she still has on young artists, especially those who feel at a disadvantage in their community.
Inspiration to Others
Anyone who knew Gwendolyn Brooks attests to her genuine kindness. Her passion for poetry gave her an avenue through which to inspire others to follow their dreams. She seemingly solely lived for poetry, but by making history by being the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize, she would further solidify her indirect yet powerful impact on the forming Civil Rights Movement and the attitude of the world towards black people. She never intended to become such a massive icon for black Americans, but she has been and will continue to be an incredible icon. By recognizing her accomplishments and sharing her story, we can give justice to her life.
Bates, Karen Grigsby. “Remembering The Great Poet Gwendolyn Brooks At 100.” NPR, NPR, 29 May 2017, www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/05/29/530081834/remembering-the-great-poet-gwendolyn-brooks-at-100.
“Gwendolyn Brooks.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gwendolyn-brooks.