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This collection of poems assembled by award-winning writer Marilyn Nelson provides young readers with a compelling, lyrical account of the life of revered African-American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. Born in 1864 and raised by white slave owners, Carver left home in search of an education and eventually earned a master’s degree in agriculture. In 1896, he was invited by Booker T. Washington to head the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute. There he conducted innovative research to find uses for crops such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and peanuts, while seeking solutions to the plight of landless black farmers. Through 44 poems, told from the point of view of Carver and the people who knew him, Nelson celebrates his character and accomplishments. She includes prose summaries of events and archival photographs.
In 1955, people all over the United States knew that Emmett Louis Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, the open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew wide media attention.
Award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson reminds us of the boy whose fate helped spark the civil rights movement. This martyr”s wreath, woven from a little-known but sophisticated form of poetry, challenges us to speak out against modern-day injustices, to “speak what we see.”
Soaring images, rhythmic language, and wry humor come together in these three narrative poems that explore travel from an African American historical and social perspective. A cab ride turns into an amazing encounter with the driver, an amateur physicist whose ideas about space and time travel spark the poet’s musings on chutzpah and artistic ambition. A trip to Triolet, a Creole village in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, leads the poet to ponder the past and present as she reflects on the ironic complexities of the slave trade and its legacy shared by so many peoples. And in “The Cachoeira Tales,” longing to take her family on a journey to “some place sanctified by the Negro soul,” the poet finds herself in Brazil’s Bahia, along with a theater director, a jazz musician, a retired commercial pilot, an activist, a university student, and two mysterious African American women whom they meet along the way. In rhymed couplets, each pilgrim tells a story, and the result is a rollicking, sensual…[more]
In The Fields of Praise, Marilyn Nelson claims as subjects the life of the spirit, the vicissitudes of love, and the African American experience and arranges them as white pebbles marking our common journey toward a “monstrous love / that wants to make the world right.” Nelson is a poet of stunning power, able to bring alive the most rarified and subtle of experiences. A slave destined to become a minister preaches sermons of heartrending eloquence and wisdom to a mule. An old woman scrubbing over a washtub receives a personal revelation of what Emancipation means: “So this is freedom: the peace of hours like these.” Memories of the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen in the face of aerial combat abroad and virulent racism at home bring a speaker to the sudden awareness of herself as the daughter “of a thousand proud fathers.”