University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Gwendolyn Brooks Digital Collection

The literary archives of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) are part of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Ms. Brooks was an Illinois Poet Laureate as well as the first black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize. The collection is comprehensive and spans more than half a century. It includes Ms. Brooks’ youthful poetry and prose, scrapbooks of pieces she published as a young woman, and extensive correspondence with a significant roster of other writers. The correspondence section alone has more than 100 boxes filled with letters, envelopes, and other items that were sent to and by Ms. Brooks. Also in the collection are manuscript drafts and proofs, especially material from after she left mainstream commercial publishing to produce her works with small presses and black-owned imprints.

Providing more insight into the daily life of Ms. Brooks, the collection also contains a profusion of notes documenting her observations on current events and daily life, her personal library of books, and a plethora of scrapbooks and other photographs – many of them detailed with extensive notes about their subjects. Ms. Brooks’ papers preserve and illuminate her creative process, sometimes across decades. Ms. Brooks’ meticulous preservation of and commentary on all aspects of her life is, at heart, a deeply archival pursuit, beckoning us to uncover networks of support and influence, make connections among her many interests and activities, and, ultimately, come to a deeper understanding of the person and the poet.

Collection photo by Roy Lewis.