Born in Topeka, Kansas, her family moved to Chicago, IL when Brooks was still quite young. Early on her passion for books and writing was greatly supported by her parents. At age 13, Gwendolyn published her first poem, “Eventide” and by 17 she was consistently contributing her poetry in the Chicago Defender, an African- American newspaper. Due to her dedication to American literature and contribution to it as a prolific black female writer, in 1950, Brooks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her work, Annie Allen, making her the first African-American ever to receive this honor. While finishing up on the second volume of her autobiography, Brooks also served as a poetry consultant for the Library of Congress, this too was the first time a black woman was selected for the post.
Throughout her writings, Brook always maintained a strong voice that depicted the black struggle of her time. Mrs. Brooks was quoted as saying,
“I think a little more is required of the poet than perhaps is required of the sculptor or painter. The poet deals in words with which everyone is familiar. We all handle words. And I think the poet, if he wants to speak to anyone, is constrained to do something with words so that they will (I hate to use the word) mean something, will be something that a reader may touch… The black writer has the American experience and he also has the black experience [from which to write]; so he’s very rich.”
Brooks took the ability of her position to help the community very seriously. She outreached to school programs, prisons, universities, and took it to heart to help young writers reach their goals and potential by giving all of her knowledge to them. Many times she used her own money to make sure programs and scholarships helped others succeed.
Her published writings include, A Street in Bronzeville, Maud Martha (her only published novel), In the Mecca, Riot, and of course, Annie Allen.