Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards

Illinois Humanities is accepting submissions through May 30th for the fourth annual Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards (GBYPA).

Open to Illinoisans from Kindergarten through 12th grade, GBYPA was founded in 2017 to “honor of the centennial of the birth of Illinois Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks,” according to the Illinois Humanities website. Created through a partnership with Our Miss Brooks 100 and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, the annual event reintroduced the poetry awards that Gwendolyn Brooks operated from 1970 to 2000.

About Gwendolyn Brooks

Born in Topeka, Kansas, Ms. Brooks moved with her family to the south side of Chicago when she was six weeks old. She earned a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, received the title “Poet Laureate of Illinois” in 1968 and became the first African-American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1976.

Her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, was an immediate critical success. Chicago Tribune writer Paul Engle described its publication as an "exceptional event" and said that it represented "the first book of a solidly Chicago person."

A used hardcover edition of A Street in Bronzeville is currently available from Amazon for $944

One of Ms. Brooks' most famous poems, “We Real Cool”, was written in 1959 and contains the words:

We real cool. We  

Left school. We


Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We


Sing sin. We  

Thin gin. We 


Jazz June. We  

Die soon.

Details for the Gwedolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards

Here are the basics on this year’s contest (from

  • The contest is open to young people currently in Kindergarten through 12th grade across the state of Illinois. Participating young people can be affiliated with any school (public, private, home, etc) or other institution.
  • Youth can only submit ONE poem and the poem must be written by only ONE author (sorry, we do not accept jointly or co-written poems for this contest).
  • Poems cannot exceed 16 lines for poems submitted by young people in grades K-5 and cannot exceed 50 lines for poems submitted by young people in grades 6-12. Poems containing visual elements are allowed, if all images/visuals are original to the poet.
  • Please only submit poems that were written between May 1, 2019 – May 30, 2020, since poems are judged based on grade level.
  • All entries must be the original work of the young person submitting the poem.
  • Youth can submit their poem on their own or the poem can be submitted by a parent/guardian or teacher using
  • When submitting a poem, please only enter your name on the entry form and do not include your name or identifying information on the poem itself, since the judging is anonymous.
  • Contest winners will be notified by July 31, 2020.
  • Due to the current public health crisis, this year’s winners will be honored at a virtual Awards Ceremony to take place on August 22nd. More details to come!

Illinois Humanities partnered with the Poetry Foundation, Brooks Permissions, and UChicago Arts to host this year's Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards. To submit a poem or learn more about the awards, click here.

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