Gwendolyn Brooks, 83, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her candid and compassionate poetry, which delved into poverty, racism and drug use among black people, died of cancer Dec. 3 at her home here.
Ms. Brooks was world renowned for promoting an understanding of black culture through her poetry while at the same time suggesting that inclusiveness is the key to harmony.
"I believe that we should all know each other, we human carriers of so many pleasurable differences," she said in a recent interview. "To not know is to doubt, to shrink from, sidestep or destroy."
Ms. Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in 1949 for her second book of poetry, "Annie Allen." She wrote hundreds of poems, had more than 20 books published and had been poet laureate of Illinois since 1968.
In 1989, she received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts. She was named the 1994 Jefferson Lecturer by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the highest honor bestowed by the federal government for work in the humanities.
She continued to write, even toward the end of her life, and had completed her most recent volume of poems late this summer.
Ms. Brooks was born in Topeka, Kan., and grew up in Chicago. She began her writing career at 11 when she mailed several poems to a community newspaper in Chicago to surprise her family. Her early works were mostly autobiographical, detailing the death of friends, her relationship with her family and their reaction to war and racism.
After a number of her poems had been published in Chicago's black newspapers, she sent 19 poems to a list of publishers.
"I said to myself, 'I'm going to go straight down that list until somebody takes these poems,' " she said.
Harper & Bros., now HarperCollins, was at the top of the list. Its editors suggested that she needed more poems, then published the collection in 1945 in a book called "A Street in Bronzeville." She followed that with "Annie Allen" four years later.
Ms. Brooks often referred to her works as her family, which included black people in general.
"If you have one drop of blackness blood in you--yes, of course it comes out red--you are mine," she once said. "You are a member of my family."
But she was quick to point out that she was not exclusionary, noting that she had the liveliest interest in other families.
Ms. Brooks also was known as a tireless teacher, promoter and advocate of creative writing in general and poetry in particular.
She used her prestige as Illinois poet laureate to inspire young writers, establishing the Illinois Poet Laureate Awards in 1969 to encourage elementary and high school students to write.
Ms. Brooks said she found it intoxicating and exciting to see young talent. She would attend poetry slams in Chicago, where aspiring poets would line up to read their works, and she often financed awards for the poet voted the best reader by the audience.
She once said of the awards she received--including having a bronze sculpture of her placed in the National Portrait Gallery--that there was only one that meant a great deal to her:
"In December 1967, at a workshop called the Kumuba Workshop in a rundown theater in Chicago, I was given an award for just being me. And that's what poetry is to me--just being me."
Her husband, poet and writer Henry Blakely Jr., died in 1996. Survivors include two children and a grandson.