Mass Mutual and NewsOne join together to present 28 dynamic people that make up the diverse tapestry of Black History. For the entire month of February, Black History Month, we will feature one Person of the Day and highlight their lives and achievements.
Poet Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks owns the distinction of being the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize. But that honor doesn’t define the entire scope of her work. Although much of her earlier works reflected her experiences living in Chicago, it was her later writings fueled by the winds of change brought by the Civil Rights Movement that captured her voice.
Brooks was born on June 17, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, the first child born to parents David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Wims. The family later moved to Chicago, the city that would become her writing roots.
Brooks would have her first poem “Eventide” published in American Childhood when she was 13-years-old. A few years later, Brooks would have several poems published in African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender. After attending junior college and honing her skills in poetry workshops, she would release her first collection, A Street In Bronzeville, in 1945.
Five years later, Brooks would become the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book of poems, Annie Allen. In the period of time between winning the prize and the turbulent 1960s, Brooks would publish her only novel, Maud Martha.
Other notable achievements for Brooks include her becoming the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress — the first Black woman to do so. She also held the title of poet laureate of Illinois. Brooks succumbed to cancer in her Chicago home on December 3, 2000.