Wealth comes in many forms — human, intellectual, social, spiritual and financial.
In 1950, Gwendolyn Brooks became the first Black woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for her piece, “Annie Allen,” chronicling the life of a Black girl growing up in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
Born in Topeka, Kansas on June 7, 1917, Brooks and her family moved to Chicago. There, Black communities had established their own schools, businesses and other companies that they were excluded from in white communities.
Brooks wasn’t prepared for the attention that a Pulitzer would bring. Although she began writing at a young age and was published in local, Black-owned publications, the award introduced her to the segregated world of published works. One that favored white writers above others.
Before her poems received nationwide attention, Brooks was concerned that the electricity would be shut off in her home. Later she found out, to her surprise, that someone anonymously paid her utility bill.
“The next day, reporters came, photographers came,” she recalled. “And I was absolutely petrified. I wasn’t going to say anything about electricity. But I knew when they went to plug in their cameras and all, nothing was going to happen.”
Her career took a village. She received praise for her poems and encouragement from well-known writers throughout Chicago. By the age of sixteen she had written over seventy-five poems. Her mother would continue to encourage her writing by sharing her works with area publications.
And her accolades continued to grow. In 1968 she was named poet laureate for the state of Illinois. In 1985, she was the first Black woman appointed as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress.
She authored more than 20 poetry collections and received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Frost Medal, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Guggenheim Foundation. She lived in Chicago until her death on December 3, 2000.
Non-financial wealth enables and stabilizes financial wealth. Gwendolyn Brooks is an example of how much can be accomplished when the people around you celebrate your successes and encourage your growth.