Innovative poet Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks (1917-2000) was born in Topeka, Kansas and raised in Chicago. She was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection Annie Allen (1950).
"Be careful what you swallow," she wrote. "Chew!"
With sonnets, ballads, and free verse, she celebrated what it felt to be black and female. Her rapid-fire verse echoed the sounds of the inner city.
"We real cool," she wrote. "We left school/We lurk late/We strike straight... We die soon."
Street-smart, radical in later life, Brooks tried from her heart to capture the colors of life and self-identity. "Artistic excellence doesn't come by trying to be above the conditions of the black ghetto, but by raising the level where the condition usually is perceived," she said and encouraged others to hope, dream, and write.
"A little more should be required of the poet than perhaps is required of the sculptor or painter," she explained. "The poet deals in words with which everyone is familiar...is constrained to do something with those words so that they will 'mean something.'"
"Writing is a delicious agony," she added. "Poetry is life distilled."
We are connected, with magnitude and bond.