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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 16:33 GMT
Pulitzer poet Gwendolyn Brooks dies
Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks published 20 books of verse
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks has died at her home in Chicago. She was 83 years old.

For most of the 20th Century she chronicled in verse the black experience in the United States.


Gwendolyn Brooks was almost like a literary Joe Louis

Professor Sterling Plumpp
She was the first African American to be awarded the Pulitzer prize for poetry and earned the highest praise from America's literary establishment, including being named the 1994 Jefferson Lecturer, the highest award in the humanities given by the government.

"Of all the American poets in our lifetime, she has been a legend," said Elise Paschen, executive director of the Poetry Society of America.

"Her poetry has been a great exemplar to her own generation; and to the generations that came up after her, she's been a great model, for her formal ingenuity, for her voice," she added.

Born in Kansas in 1917, Brooks and her parents moved to Chicago when she was still an infant.

She was educated in an integrated high school and graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936.

Her first poems were published by a local newspaper and they dealt with her family and friends and what it was like to grow up black in a society divided along racial lines.

"At a time when racism was so rampant, Gwendolyn Brooks was almost like a literary Joe Louis," said Sterling Plumpp, a professor of African-American Studies and English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He added: "At a time when black people were being clubbed into submission because of their race, it was her eloquence in her poetry that got many African-Americans to look at their community, and to see their minds as something of great worth."

By the early 1960s, she had reached a high point in her writing career.

She was regarded as a grande dame of America's black writers and an honoured member of the literary elite.

She published 20 books of verse and novels, the first in 1945, called A Street in Bronzeville.

See also:

07 Nov 00 | Entertainment
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11 Oct 00 | Talking Point
Does poetry matter?
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