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Gwendolyn Brooks was born on June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, the eldest child of Keziah (Wims) Brooks, a schoolteacher, and David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, who, because he lacked the funds to finish school, did not achieve his dream of becoming a doctor. Brooks grew up in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents often read to her and encouraged her to do well in school, but she was a shy girl. According to George Kent, she was "spurned by members of her own race because she lacked social or athletic abilities, a light skin, and good grade hair."
Brooks was deeply hurt by this rejection and spent most of her childhood writing. She became known to her family and friends as "the female Paul Lawrence Dunbar" (1872– 1906; a famous African American poet). She received compliments on her poems and encouragement from James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) and Langston Hughes (1902–1967), well-known writers with whom she began correspondence and whose readings she attended in Chicago. By the age of sixteen she had written over seventy-five poems.
After graduating from Wilson Junior College in 1936, Brooks worked as director of publicity for a youth organization of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1939 she married Henry L. Blakeley, another young writer, and together they would raise two children. Brooks continued to write poetry when the children were asleep or later while they were in school. She participated in poetry readings and workshops at Chi...