Virgia Brocks-Shedd was born in Carpenter, Mississippi, in 1943. Her family moved to the community of Bel Pine when the Carpenter sawmill closed. At age thirteen Brocks-Shedd became a boarding student at the Piney Woods Country Life School, twenty-four miles south of Jackson, where she lived and studied until 1961. At Piney Woods, Brocks-Shedd became an avid reader and noted The Negro Caravan and biographies of Ethel Waters and Eartha Kitt as particularly influential. At sixteen she read Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and was inspired to follow her dreams of being a poet.
Brocks-Shedd heard Margaret Walker Alexander read her poetry to the students at Piney Woods and later studied under Alexander at Jackson State University, where Brocks-Shedd earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964. Brocks-Shedd then attended Atlanta University and earned a master of library science degree in 1965.
Upon graduation Brocks-Shedd was hired by Tougaloo College in Jackson, where she worked her way up from assistant librarian to the position of director of library services at L. Zenobia Coleman Library. Through her role in the library, Brocks-Shedd spread her love of literature to Tougaloo students by introducing them to local poets including Alexander, Coleman, Ernestine Lipscomb, and Lelia Rhodes.
Brocks-Shedd used her writing to pass along her love of reading and books. The chapbook Mississippi Woods (1980) includes poems by fellow Mississippi poets Melvin Turner, Hampton Williams, and Henry Wilbanks. Mississippi Earthworks (1982) was published in conjunction with the Jackson Writers/Actors Guild. The following year she published a chapbook composed of two longer poems, “Southern Roads/City Pavement” and “We Must Rise!” The cycle “Southern Roads/City Pavement” also appeared in a 1997 anthology, Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African-American Poetry. Her poetry and articles appeared in several Jackson publications, including the Tougaloo College literary magazine, Pound; Close-Up; Hoo-Doo II/III; the Jackson Advocate; and the Northside Reporter.
As her career progressed Brocks-Shedd became active in the movement to integrate the Mississippi Library Association and held distinguished posts in the library associations throughout the state. She was a founding member of the Society of Mississippi Archivists and of the African American Librarians Caucus of Mississippi. As an active member of the American Library Association she was a charter member of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. In 1989 she became the first African American appointed head of the Mississippi Library Commission. Throughout her career Brocks-Shedd fought for the inclusion of African American works in Mississippi libraries, which she saw as essential to understanding the black experience in the South.
Brocks-Shedd died on 4 December 1992 after battling pancreatic cancer. In 1993 the Piney Woods Country Life School established the Virgia Brocks-Shedd Memorial Fund for Student Scholarships and Literary Achievement. Since 1994 the Mississippi Library Association Black Caucus Roundtable has awarded the Virgia Brocks-Shedd Scholarship to a minority student at the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Library and Information Science.
- Virgia Brocks-Shedd, Mississippi Earthworks (1982)
- Virgia Brocks-Shedd, Mississippi Woods (1980)
- Clarence W. Hunter, Mississippi Libraries (Fall 1992)
- Mississippi Libraries (Spring 1993)
- Mississippi Library Association website, http://www.misslib.org