Black History Month Spotlight: Gwendolyn Brooks

Adreon Patterson
3 min readFeb 8, 2024

Poet and author Gwendolyn Brooks used her words to move the literary world’s needle. Brooks was the product of the Great Migration as her family moved from Topeka, Kansas, to Chicago, Illinois. Her writing talents gained attention early on as her mother fostered her poetry writing and reading. She published her first poem at age 13 before contributing regularly to the Chicago Defender at age 17. She attended a two-year writing program at Wilson Junior College instead of facing the inequity and prejudice of a four-year institution.

Brooks continued honing her craft by attending poetry workshops while working as a typist. Her work allowed her to cross paths with literary luminaries like James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes. The budding poet began writing book reviews and working at NAACP to support herself. She eventually published her first poetry collection, A Street in Bronzeville, which caught the attention of literary critics and respected writers. However, her 1945 collection Annie Allen led her to become the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She followed those poetry collections with her first and only novel, Maud Martha.

Over the next few years, her work took on a political and social slant, leading her to leave her publisher for smaller Black-owned publishing houses. The award-winning writer published poetry collections, including Riot and Family Pictures, and the first volume of her autobiography Report from Part One. During this period, Brooks taught literature and poetry courses at institutions like Columbia College Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, and Columbia University. After the success of her works, she became the Illinois Poet Laureate from 1968 to 2000 and the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1985 to 1986.

Later in life, Brooks continued publishing poetry collections and released the second volume of her autobiography Report from Part Two. Her work and activism were honored with accolades like the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Medal of Arts. The writer passed away on December 3, 2000, following a brief battle with cancer.

During and after her lifetime, Gwendolyn Brooks lived by her words and actions. Her words still reverberate today as readers across multiple demographics recite her work. Her nonlinear narrative of American life set a precedent still seen in African American literature today. Her contributions still hold weight for many upcoming writers. So, I say, “Ms. Brooks, we thank you for raising Black and brown voices through lyricism and fortitude.”

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.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Originally published at on February 8, 2024.



Adreon Patterson

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