Poets and Poetry

Who was the first black poet to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry?

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000), poet and novelist, was the first black to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, with Annie Allen, on May 1, 1950. She became established as a major American poet and, in 1976, she was the first black woman inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters. A sensitive interpreter of Northern ghetto life, Brooks began to write poetry at age seven; her first poems were published in the Chicago Defender. From 1969 on she promoted the idea that blacks must develop their own culture. She changed her writing style in an effort to become accessible to the ordinary black reader. Brooks was poet laureate of Illinois for sixteen years, and was named poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1985. Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, and began to write poetry when she was seven years old. While in high school, she met Langston Hughes who, on her request, read her poems and gave her enthusiastic inspiration. After graduation she attended Woodrow Wilson Junior College. In the 1940s and 1950s, Brooks concentrated on learning poetry and on writing it as well. In 1945 she published A Street in Bronzeville, the book that launched her career. Her autobiographical novel, Maude Martha,was published in 1953, followed by the first of four books of poetry for children in 1956, then The Bean Eaters (1960), In the Mecca (1968), The Riot (1969), and other works.

Gwendolyn Brooks won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Annie Allen.


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