When the news was announced that Jacqueline Woodson was awarded the MacArthur Genius grant, I had just finished reading her gorgeous memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. I had recently seen her in conversation with another writer I admire, and so I could hear her voice and image the writer as I read the memoir. I can’t wait to read more of Woodson’s work.
Brown Girl Dreaming is a beautiful and generous glimpse into a young writer’s emergence, where family and sense of place both act as characters in the story. I hope you will read it. Two poems that really stood out to me:
On p. 80:
miss bell and the marchers
They look like regular people
visiting our neighbor Miss Bell,
foil-covered dishes held out in front of them
as they arrive
some in pairs,
some just little kids
holding their mothers’ hands.
If you didn’t know, you’d think it was just
an evening gathering. Maybe church people
heading into Miss Bell’s house to talk
about God. But when Miss Bell pulls her blinds
closed, the people fill their dinner places with food,
their glasses with sweet tea and gather
to talk about marching.
And even though Miss Bell works for a white lady
who said I will fire you in a minute if I ever see you
on that line!
Miss Bell knows that marching isn’t the only thing
she can do,
knows that people fighting need full bellies to think
and safe places to gather.
She knows the white lady isn’t the only one
who’s watching, listening, waiting,
to end this fight. So she keeps the marchers’
glasses filled, adds more corn bread
and potato salad to their places,
stands in the kitchen ready to slice
lemon pound cake into generous pieces.
And in the morning, just before she pulls
her uniform from the closet, she prays,
God, please give me and those people marching
And this beautifully embodied gift on p. 217:
It’s easier to make up stories
than it is to write them down. When I speak,
the words come pouring out of me. The story
wakes up and walks all over the room. Sits in a chair,
crosses one leg over the other, says,
Let me introduce myself. Then just starts going on and on.
But as I bend over my composition notebook,
only my name
comes quickly. Each letter, neatly printed
between the pale blue lines. Then white
space and air and me wondering, How do I
spell introduce? Trying again and again
until there is nothing but pink
bits of eraser and a hole now
where a story should be.