Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. – [X]
Last week, I talked about contemporary graphic novels that deal with certain realities, even if most of those books were steeped in fantasy. This week, I was going to read and review Rainbow Rowell’s Landline, but I got a little distracted by Jacqueline Woodson’s own brand of magic: poetry. I’ve been wanting to read this one since Tumblr’s Reblog Book Club read it, and now that I finally did get to read it … well, it seemed like an opportune time to celebrate something special and truly good in this world.
Before you get all, “Oh, no! Poetry again!” hear me out. It only ever takes one special poet for this medium to make sense to you. Woodson herself struggled with it as a kid:
The first time author Jacqueline Woodson says she really understood poetry — and loved it — was after reading Langston Hughes in elementary school.
“Until then, I thought it was some code that older white people used to speak to each other. I didn’t know what was going on with the line breaks and the words,” Woodson recalls. “Once the floodgates opened, they opened.” – [X]
I’m willing to bet that for a lot of readers who are new to poetry, Brown Girl Dreaming can be the book that opens up a whole new world. Give it a chance, okay?
*ahem* So. Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming is equal parts History and (lowercase, personal) history, and Woodson blends both together (the way they do in real life) with beautiful, lyrical poetry. It has the kind of voice that is clear and captivating right from the start:
I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
a country caught
between Black and White.
– “February 12, 1963”, Brown Girl Dreaming.
And it does not let go until you’re done and it’s hypothetically 1:40AM and your have tissues strewn about you. *points to self* The thing is, you don’t want to be let go by her writing. Each one of these poems are so full of grace even in the face of ugliness, that you are struck by the courage behind the words. And you can tell that every single word as well as the spaces between them have been chosen with care and honesty.
Words truly are, as Woodson says, her brilliance.
Woodson leaves no stone in her life unturned as she tackles subjects like racism, grief, and faith with poignancy and knows exactly when to flood us readers with words and when to shower us with commiserative silences. It is the kind of poetry and storytelling that tricks you into thinking it is pure sorcery, when in reality it is a talent so well-refined that only practice and cleverness could make it look so effortless. It is hard to pick a favourite but since I am singing praises of Woodson’s writing, I think I will leave you with this one:
When I tell my family
I want to be a writer, they smile and say,
We see you in the backyard with your writing.
We hear you making up all those stories.
It’s a good hobby, we see how quiet it keeps you.
But maybe you should be a teacher,
I’ll think about it, I say
And maybe all of us know
this is just another one of my
– “When I Tell my Family”, Brown Girl Dreaming.
I don’t say this often, but I truly think Brown Girl Dreaming is on its way to becoming a classic in the poetry genre. Or the YA genre. Or both. Well, at least I know I won’t stop re-reading it anytime soon!