Gwendolyn Brooks had already published a well-received poetry collection, been awarded a fellowship, and had been celebrated for her work - but that didn’t translate to being able to make a steady living.
In Chicago, Black people were forced into crowded housing projects. And poetry wasn’t paying the bills. As she and her son sat in the dark one day, unable to afford the electric bill again, the phone rang.
The person on the other line told Brooks that she had won the most prestigious literary award in the United States - the Pulitzer Prize!
Brooks was the first Black person to win the Pulitzer, and eventually became one of the most celebrated American poets in history. Her eloquent writing breathed life into the Civil Rights movement for its poignant explorations of Black American life, specifically on the South Side of Chicago.
According to Eve Ewing, a Chicago poet, “Brooks gave a language to the everyday… [and reminded us] that our lives mattered, our stories mattered, the places where we are from mattered.”
Beyond her own work, Brooks created prizes for young Chicago poets, mentored up-and-coming writers such as Nikki Giovanni, and became the United States Poet Laureate.
Despite the barriers stacked against her, Brooks always worked hard, always loved herself and her culture, and always gave back to the next generation.