Elizabeth Alexander came to the attention of the larger public when she was asked to read an original poem at President Obama’s inauguration.
Alexander is a professor of African American studies and English literature at Yale. After reading large sections of this book, I was not surprised. She often uses history, especially African American history, as the inspiration for her poetry. I can imagine all kinds of integration between history and english classes, perhaps using these poems as examples for students writing their own poetry inspired by history.
I especially enjoyed the selections from Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (2007), which bring to life the feelings of students attending Prudence Crandall’s school in 1830s Connecticut. This collection was co-authored by Marilyn Nelson and published for young adults by Wordsong.
In any case, a great choice for school and public libraries alike, and one that teens might not encounter without a personal introduction.
Adult/High School–This retrospective collection of 20 years of work is wonderfully readable. As Alexander tells stories with her poetry, readers learn about the Venus Hottentot, brought from Africa to London and treated as a tourist sight. Poems from Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color portray the plight of the brave educator who could not keep her students safe when the town of Canterbury objected to educating young women of color by poisoning the well and setting fire to the boarding school. The poignant poems are written from teachers and students’ points of view. The Amistad poems movingly depict the rebellion of the slaves on board the ship and their trial in New Haven where Yale students volunteered to teach them English. There are also autobiographical poems about the poet’s life and family as she recalls her grandfather frying apples and summertime in Washington, D.C. where she grew up. Lines from “Summertime” make readers feel the heat. “A hydrant/illicitly opened, kids riding/the hard spray, caught in the rainbow/of water.” Alexander’s poem “Praise Song for the Day” was delivered at President Obama’s inauguration and is one of the 15 new selections. It is an inspirational piece with great appeal for all readers. “I know there’s something better down the road./We need to find a place where we are safe./We walk into that which we cannot yet see.”–Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library