Women Who Rock: Gwendolyn Brooks

March is National Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a lady we admire each weekday. Since today is the last day of this awesome month, we’ll be going out with a bank, spotlight FIVE women who rock.


There are several influential African Americans — women especially — who sometimes fall through the cracks of history. Gwendolyn Brooks is one of them. Where women are concerned, there are few socially and politically influential people who can be called amazing. But a quick peek into the life and accomplishments of Gwendolyn Brooks is sufficient to comprehend the impact that she has had on today’s African American culture.

Born in 1917, Gwendolyn Brooks came from a typical loving family with parents who celebrated education. Her mother left a teaching career to focus on family life. And because the costs of medical school were too high, her father pushed aside the idea of becoming a doctor, settling for janitorial work instead. Years later, Gwendolyn Brooks herself would experience the sting of “settling,” taking on typing jobs and domestic work despite having submitted over 75 poems to The Chicago Defender.
Brooks proved to the world that the power of words is strong enough to create tidal waves of social change. Through her exceptional and creative use of words in poetry, she was able to reach not only the militant leaders of her time, but also an eager general public. Mademoiselle magazine recognized her as one of the “10 Young Women of the Year” in the 1940s, and her eloquent use of words also earned her the title poet laureate of America in 1985. Her ability to evoke emotion through free verse or carefully crafted sonnets is something still remarked upon today. Perhaps this is why she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, a first for an African American.

What is considered remarkable is her ability to channel all of her emotions and experiences into poetic pieces such as “The Mother” and “The Crazy Woman.” Though she didn’t consider herself a scholar in the true sense of the word, she went on to receive over 75 honorary degrees from colleges and universities all over the world, before succumbing to cancer at age 83 in the year 2000. But what makes Brooks a legend is not so much the collection of titles that she amassed in her whirlwind career, but her ability to affect the world through the humility and truth of her words.

Further reading:

  • Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks
  • Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
  • A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by George Kent
  • Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and the Heroic Voice by D.H. Melhem
  • [Photo: AP]