Gwendolyn Brooks was born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas. She grew up with loving parents in a poor section of Chicago, experiencing much prejudice during her childhood. She began writing at a very young age and published her first poem when only thirteen years old. At age sixteen, she met Langston Hughes at a poetry reading, an event that gave the poet both inspiration and encouragement to continue on a literary path. Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936 and had a series of degrading jobs that she would use as fodder for her future writing. Her first published collection of poetry was A Street in Bronzeville, published in 1945. Soon after, the poet received continuous awards, including an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in 1946, two Guggenheim fellowships in 1946 and 1947, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for Annie Allen (1949). She was the first African-American to ever win the award. In 1956, Brooks published both Maud Martha and Bronzville Boys and Girls, the former her only novel, and the latter a children’s book of verse.
She continued publishing poetry for the next three decades, with a focus on the civil rights movement and the black experience in America. Supportive of her African-American heritage, the poet published her later works with Broadside Press in Detroit and Third World Press in Chicago, both dedicated to promoting culturally progressive work. Two of Brooks’ other most notable books are The Bean Eaters (1960) and In the Mecca (1968), for which she garnered a National Book Award nomination. Brooks replaced Carl Sandburg as poet laureate of Illinois in 1968, and was a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress from 1985-86. She received many other notable honors during her life, including a Frost Medal, a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation, and a Shelley Memorial Award. In addition to writing, she was also a teacher and mentor for future poets until her death on December 3, 2000.