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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

14. Becoming Visible

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- James Baldwin
- Saul Bellow
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Ralph Ellison
- Bernard Malamud
- Paule Marshall
- Arthur Miller
- N. Scott Momaday
- Grace Paley
- Philip Roth
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

A Poetry Study Circle at the South Side Community Art Center
[7851] Jack Delano, Chicago, Illinois. A Poetry Study Circle at the South Side Community Art Center (1944), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USW3-000701-D].

Gwendolyn Brooks Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks grew up in Chicago. As a child she attended both all-white and all-black schools, as well as the integrated Englewood High School. This background helped create for her a rich perspective on race and identity issues in the city that had such an impact on her work. By the time she was thirteen, her first poem, "Even-tide" (1930), was published, and by 1934 she had worked for and was a weekly contributor to the Chicago Defender, in which over one hundred of her poems appeared. Brooks won her first major award, the Midwest Writers Conference Poetry Award, in 1943, and in 1945 her first book, A Street in Bronzeville, was published. With her second book, Annie Allen (1949), she became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Other books soon followed, such as Maud Martha (1953), Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956), and In the Mecca (1968).

A pivotal moment in Brooks's life occurred in 1967 when she attended the Second Black Writers' Conference at Fisk University, where she encountered young black poets writing "as blacks, about blacks, to blacks." She began conducting poetry workshops for gang members and inner-city black youth and became associated with more militant political groups. Stylistically, she combined the sermonizing style of black preachers, street talk, and some of the more standard forms of verse, and her later work echoes the rhythms of jazz and the combinations of African chants. Brooks's work also addresses issues of abortion, violence, abandonment by men, and the struggles of raising children in poverty. Her penetrating insights into and commentary on African American life, ethnicity, and identity are vividly and powerfully articulated in her poetry and prose.

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