She grew up in the slums of Chicago. Brooks's poems deal with the experience of being black in America. She won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Annie Allen (1949), becoming the first black woman to win this award. Her verse was collected in The World of Gwendolyn Brooks (1970), which also includes an earlier novelette, Maud Martha (1953). The poems in Riot (1970) are written in street dialects. Other writings include Primer for Blacks (1980) and To Disembark (1981).
See her autobiography (1972).