Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1917, but grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. Her first book of poems, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), was praised by critics as a clear and moving evocation of life in an urban Black neighborhood. For Annie Allen, published in 1949, Brooks was awarded the 1950 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She became the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize.
Other works from Brooks include the novel Maude Martha (1953); the children's book Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956); and the volumes of poetry Selected Poems (1963), In the Mecca (1968), Riot (1969), Family Pictures (1970), Aloneness (1971), To Disembark (1981), The Near-Johannesburg Boy (1987), BLACKS (1987), Gottschalk and the Grande Tarantelle (1989), and Children Coming Home (1992). Her autobiographical work Report from Part One appeared in 1972.
Brooks is noted for her adaptation of traditional forms of poetry. Her writing style is characterized by short verse lines and casual rhymes. Her work has always depicted black struggles, but after 1968 she became more active and outspoken in attacking racial discrimination. She also worked extensively to distribute black poetry. Brooks was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois in 1968, succeeding Carl Sandburg. In 1985 she was appointed poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, one of the highest honors that any writer could ever achieve. In1988 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Other awards that Brooks has earned include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (1946) and a National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellowship for Literature (1989) ,a lifetime achievement award. In 1990 Brooks became the first American to receive the Society for Literature Award from the University of Thessaloniki in Athens, Greece. She received the National Book Foundation's medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 1994.