Craft Study – Brown Girl Dreaming

20821284Jacqueline Woodson is a native first of Columbus Ohio, then of Greenville, South Carolina, and finally, Brooklyn, New York.  Her nomadic childhood during the tumultuous 1960s and 70s inspired this incredible memoir in verse, which is surely the only autobiography I’ve ever read in poetry.  Layered with tales of tragedy, uprooting, defeat, dreams, and hope, Woodson conjures a nostalgia for her unique upbringing with ease.  She explores themes of family, race, poverty, education, and our life’s callings in this beautiful text.

I can’t wait to share Brown Girl Dreaming with my students. There are so many amazing poems that make up the text as a whole–from the spot-on “stevie and me” (If someone had taken/ that book out of my hand/ said, You’re too old for this/ maybe/ I’d never have believed/ that someone who looked like me/ could be in the pages of the book/ that someone who looked like me/ had a story) to the haunting “what’s left behind” (Sometimes, I don’t know the words for things,/ how to write down the feeling of knowing/ that every dying person leaves something behind.).  But the one we’ll imitate for craft is “what i believe,” which brilliantly combines repetition, deliberate contrast, and an elegant articulation of Woodson’s beliefs.  I hope it will lead my students toward a “This I Believe” essay, and toward wanting to read this book in full.

From Brown Girl Dreaming, p. 317-318

I believe in God and evolution
I believe in the Bible and the Qur’an.
I believe in Christmas and the New World.
I believe that there is good in each of us
no matter who we are or what we believe in.
I believe in the words of my grandfather.
I believe in the city and the South
the past and the present.
I believe in Black people and White people coming together.
I believe in nonviolence and “Power to the People.”
I believe in my little brother’s pale skin and my own dark brown.
I believe in my sister’s brilliance and the too-easy books I love to read.
I believe in my mother on a bus and Black people refusing to ride.
I believe in good friends and good food.
I believe in johnny pumps and jump ropes,
Malcolm and Martin, Buckeyes and Birmingham, 
writing and listening, bad words and good words–
I believe in Brooklyn!
I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.

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5 thoughts on “Craft Study – Brown Girl Dreaming

  1. Destiny November 27, 2017 at 5:20 pm Reply

    Loved it


  2. vgpratt September 2, 2015 at 9:01 am Reply

    I love this book, and I love your idea for using it as a mentor text for your writers!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] the act of simply reading that poem.  So, we glued in an excerpt from Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming.  I modeled for students how to respond to Jacqueline as a real writer, to notice and note her […]


  4. summer April 29, 2015 at 10:28 am Reply

    I think you have misquoted it…the second line should be “I believe in the Bible and the Quran”


  5. Amy Rasmussen December 9, 2014 at 3:20 pm Reply

    I love this excerpt from Woodson’s books (which I have not read yet, sadly). It reminds me of this poem by Meg Kearney: — another great one to use before starting “This I Believe” essays.


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