Photographs courtesy of POETRYFOUNDATION.ORG


The beginning of February marks the celebration of Black History Month on the UIS campus and around the world. This month focuses on the stories of black men and women and gives a voice to those who have been silenced and ignored throughout history. Growing up, many students learned about black icons like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr., but there are many other lesser-known figures local to the Illinois area that also need to be recognized and remembered.

One person in particular who UIS students should learn about this month is Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks. Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, though she and her family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth. Brooks was an exceptionally smart individual and a talented poet. Brooks first poem “Eventide” was published at the young age of 13 in the children’s magazine, American Childhood. By 16 years old, she had published approximately 75 poems, and was even being recognized for her work in the Chicago Defender, a leading African-American newspaper at the time.

The subject of many of her poems was the people and culture in her beloved home, the city of Chicago. During her lifetime, Brooks published three books of poetry that received many awards and honors, but it was her second book titled Annie Allen that was recognized in 1949 as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Brooks was the first ever African-American to win the prestigious prize. Later in her life, Brooks decided to pursue teaching to help others improve their skills and became an instructor of creative writing. Brooks taught at a variety of different schools, including Columbia College in Chicago, Chicago State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin.