Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) was a poet, author, and teacher from Chicago. She grew up in Bronzeville, where her parents encouraged her love of poetry from a young age. She began to submit her work to various publications as a teenager and continued writing for the rest of her life.
Brooks was a leader in the Black Arts movement and her poetry pushed boundaries, giving voice to those unable to tell their own stories. For example, her poem A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, A Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon, is a response to the murder of Emmett Till and calls white women to get involved with anti-racist work. Her poetry was typically political in nature, discussing the migration movement, the lives of Black Chicagoans, World War 2, and various social justice movements. At age 33, she earned the Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen, a book of poetry that chronicles the life of a Black woman’s life, youth through adulthood.
In addition to her writing, Brooks was a teacher and supported other writers throughout her career. She taught creative writing at institutions including Columbia College, Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Wisconsin. She also supported young writers by donating her prize money from poetry awards to them.
We have many students at WITS who enjoy reading poetry with their mentors. Reading poetry builds empathy; readers of poetry have unique insights into the speaker of the poem’s life and experiences. Reading poetry out loud increases fluency among young readers by teaching them that the placement of words affects the meaning of those words. Pre-school readers even benefit from reading poetry out loud: rhyming poetry shows that while words sound similar, they carry different meanings.
Poetry ultimately is a great tool for readers of all ages for many reasons. We celebrate the activism and the work of poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, whose social commentary is still relevant today. Check out related blog posts on our website about the importance of diverse books, original poetry by WITS students, and books about other notable women.
Over the past 3 years, 68% of WITS students surpassed the national average for annual reading level growth