Gwendolyn Brooks, who died in her sleep December 3, 2000, at the age of 83, was one of America's most celebrated poets. Her work delved deeply into American race issues and advocated for tolerance. She was awarded many prestigious awards for her poetry.
Brooks was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas. She was the daughter of David Anderson Brooks, a janitor who aspired to be a doctor, and Keziah Corinne Brooks, a school teacher and a classically trained pianist. Both parents encouraged her love of writing and reading. Brooks began writing poems at an early age, publishing her first poem in a children's magazine when she was 13. She continued to publish and attend poetry workshops throughout her life.
She was appointed Illinois poet laureate in 1969 by Governor Otto Kerner and published several volumes of her work. She also wrote two autobiographical books, Report from Part One (1972) and Report from Part Two (1996).
Brooks' poetry reflected urban black culture, but its underlying themes were universal to human experience. She created sonnets and ballads, as well as lyrical poems with blues rhythm. Her work appeared in leading literary magazines of her day, and she was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her book-length poem, Annie Allen, in 1950.
Brooks was also known for her philanthropy and teaching. She taught at a variety of colleges and universities, and ran her own writing workshop. She was an activist and advocate for civil rights and racial equality. She was a founding member of the Black Arts Council and served on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.