Jacqueline 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. 317-318I 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.