chicago lecture

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MAY 24 - GWENDOLYN BROOKS

In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks became the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize, taking home the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her second book Annie Allen. She had shown an affinity for the art form since childhood, later stating in life, “I felt that I had to write. Even if I had never been published, I knew that I would go on writing, enjoying it and experiencing the challenge.“

Brooks published her first poem in a children’s magazine by thirteen, developed a portfolio of approximately seventy-five different poems by sixteen and, by seventeen, her work was regularly seen in print in The Chicago Defender, a newspaper devoted to serving Chicago’s Black population. 

After graduating from Wilson Junior College in 1936, Brooks worked as a secretary to support herself while she sharpened her craft by attending workshops, writing diligently and finding inspiration in her surroundings. “I wrote about what I saw and heard in the street,” she once said. “I lived in a small second-floor apartment at the corner, and I could look first on one side and then the other. There was my material.”

Her hard work paid off in 1945 when her first book of poetry A Street in Bronzeville was met with instant critical claim, earning her a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and her first Guggenheim Fellowship. She continued along the Bronzeville narrative with 1950′s Annie Allen, weaving tales of a young Black girl as she grew into womanhood in the Chicago neighborhood. Fellow poet Langston Hughes described the characters of Annie Allen as “alive, reaching, and very much of today”.

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