Gwendolyn Brooks was born June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas but was raised in Chicago. Her mother, a former school teacher, was a classically trained pianist. Her father, the son of a runaway slave who fought in the Civil War, aspired to become a physician, but gave up his dream due to finances, instead worked as a janitor.
Her passion for writing was nourished by her supportive parents. Her first poem was published at age 13 and, by age 16, she had 75 published poems. Her poems ranged in style from ballads and sonnets to free verse using blues rhythms.
At age 24, one of the poetry workshops--organized by Inez Cunningham Stark, an affluent white woman with a strong literary background, for African-Americans—inspired her. By age 26, she received an award for poetry from the Midwestern Writers' Conference.
By age 28, her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, was published and brough instant critical acclaim. She received her first Guggenheim Fellowship and was among Mademoiselle Magazine's "Ten Young Women of the Year." At age 33, she achieved several awards, one of which was the Pulitzer Prize, for her second published book of poetry, Annie Allen. She was honored to be the first African American to receive the Pulitzer.
At age 45, John F. Kennedy invited her to read at the Library of Congress festival. Soon after, she began her career teaching creative writing teaching at Columbia College in Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, Clay College in New York and the University of Wisconsin.
Among her other many achievements are the National Book Award nomination, Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress, the Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. At age 71, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. At age 77, she was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecturer, one of the highest honors for American literature and the highest award in the humanities given by the federal government. At age 78, she was honored as the first Woman of the Year by the Harvard Black Men's Forum.
At age 83, on December 3, 2000, she died after a short battle with cancer.
Annie Allen consists of three parts about an African American girl. In the first part, "Notes from the Childhood and Girlhood", there are eleven poems about the girl's birth, her mother, and her reaction to racism, killing, and death. In the second part, "The Anniad", the mock heroic poem is about the girl's dreams of a lover who goes to war, returns to her, marries her, leaves her, and comes back home to die. The third part, "The Womanhood", is about the girl's outlook on a world she would like to change. "The book of poetry shows how Annie has changed from an egotistic romantic to a realistic idealist."
Compiled from various resources including Wikipedia.