Brown Girl Dreaming has been winning all sorts of awards (Newbery and National Book Award). It depicts a young black family’s moves from Ohio to South Carolina to New York City amid segregation and racial violence. Woodson also tells the story of growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness and how that made her different from other children. And while those elements are all certainly present, running like an undercurrent through the memoir, they don’t interfere with or overpower the narrative of Woodson’s childhood. Instead, historical events inform and color the verse so that we can learn from the effects on the family without feeling we are being taught. Woodson’s poems are beautiful, subtle, and yet still clear and evocative of a different time.
I even had to read this one twice. I gobbled it down once super quickly to get the story of Jacqueline Woodson’s family life down, and then a second time slowly to savor the images and the language. It was that good. Although I’m not a huge fan of free verse, some of these poems I yearned to read aloud just to hear them spoken.
My favorite is “Composition Notebook” because as a writer, I KNOW the feeling of promise a new notebook brings:
And somehow, one day, it’s just there
speckled black-and-white, the paper
inside smelling like something I could fall right into,
live there — inside those clean white pages.
I don’t know how my first composition notebook
ended up in my hands, long before I could really write
someone must have known that this
was all I needed.
I read this for book with a color in the title and also because I don’t read nearly enough poetry. I’m sure glad I did.