Friday, October 17, 2014

Memoirs in poetry

Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson whose book, Brown Girl Dreaming, was just named a finalist for the National Book Award. You know how much I love this book and already featured Jacqueline in a Poet to Poet interview with Carole Boston Weatherford. But did I mention that I also find it so intriguing that a memoir-in-verse is getting all this recognition? I think that’s wonderful! And I loved how Jacqueline said, “This is how memory comes to me -- In small moments with all of this white space around them.” That seems to be true for many poets and I thought it might be interesting to gather a list of other memoirs told in poem or verse form. 

For example, have you seen Marilyn Nelson’s latest book, How I Discovered Poetry? It’s a memoir in 50 sonnets! And it’s a perfect partner to Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming in its exploration of family, identity, racism, and writing. Don’t miss it! Plus, I hear that Margarita Engle will be publishing her own memoir in verse next year (2015). Can’t wait!

It’s also interesting to explore how memoir is adapted for other poetic perspectives. Naomi Shihab Nye wove autobiographical poems and passages alongside science-themed entries in her evocative, Honeybee (Greenwillow, 2008). Carole Boston Weatherford created a fictional verse memoir to tell the first-person life story of the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday in Becoming Billie Holiday (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, 2008).

And for a comic twist, look for Bobbi Katz’s engaging, mock memoir with the most beautiful retro cover and scrapbook-like interior perfect for Halloween sharing, The Monsterologist; A Memoir in Rhyme (Sterling, 2009). Or for younger readers, another mock memoir presented as if written in a student notebook by Gary Crew, Troy Thompson’s Excellent Peotry [sic] (Kane/Miller, 2003). Hilarious!

And any look at memoir merits a discussion of biography, autobiography, and history captured through poetry. For example, J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen create a vivid biography in poems for artist Marc Chagall in Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: A Life of Marc Chagall in Verse (Creative Editions, 2011). Gorgeous Chagall art included!

Writers Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Thanhha Lai wrote award-winning novels in verse that were largely autobiographical and truly compelling:
Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011).
Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011).

And let’s not neglect novels in verse that are grounded in true stories and historical events like:
Allan Wolf's The Watch That Ends the Night; Voices from the Titanic (Candlewick, 2011)
Maryann MacDonald's Odette’s Secrets (Bloomsbury, 2013)
to name just a few...

What a great opportunity to talk with students about memory and poetry! 

Here’s another list from my book, The Poetry Teacher’s Book of Lists, that will help jumpstart your search for poetic memoirs. Enjoy!

Poetry Memoirs for Young People

Poetry is one place where writers look back on their lives and share memories of significant moments and experiences. Here is a selection of poetry memoirs written specifically for young people. 

  1. Abeel, Samantha.1993. Reach for the Moon. Duluth, MN: Pfeifer-Hamilton.
  2. Appelt, Kathi. 2004. My Father’s Summers: A Daughter’s Memoirs. New York: Henry Holt.
  3. Begay, Shonto. 1995. Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa. New York:  Scholastic.
  4. Brown, Dale S. 1995. I Know I Can Climb the Mountain. Columbus, OH: Mountain Books & Music. 
  5. Corrigan, Eireann. 2002. You Remind Me of You; A Poetry Memoir. New York: Push/Scholastic. 
  6. Graves, Donald. 1996. Baseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  7. Greenfield, Eloise. 1993. Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir. New York: HarperCollins.
  8. Grimes, Nikki. 2004. Tai Chi morning: Snapshots of China. Chicago: Cricket Books.
  9. Harrison, David L. 2004. Connecting Dots: Poems of My Journey. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press.
  10. Herrera, Juan Felipe. 2001. Calling The Doves/El Canto De Las Palomas. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
  11. Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 1995. Been to Yesterdays: Poems of a Life. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong, Boyds Mills Press.
  12. Levy, Debbie. 2010. The Year of Goodbyes; A True Story of Friendship, Family and Farewells. 
  13. Little, Lessie Jones. 1988. Children of Long Ago: Poems. New
    York: Lee & Low. Reprinted, 2000.
  14. Lyon, George Ella. 1999. Where I’m From, Where Poems Come From. Spring, TX: Absey & Co.
  15. Mak, Kam. 2001. My Chinatown: One Year in Poems. New York: HarperCollins.
  16. Rylant, Cynthia. 1991. Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 
  17. Spain, Sahara Sunday. 2001. If There Would Be No Light; Poems from My Heart. San Francisco: HarperCollins. 
  18. Stepanek, Mattie. 2002. Heartsongs. New York: Hyperion.
  19. Stevenson, James. 1995. Sweet Corn: Poems. New York: Greenwillow.
  20. Stevenson, James. 1998. Popcorn: Poems. New York: Greenwillow.
  21. Stevenson, James. 2002. Corn-Fed: Poems. New York: Greenwillow.
  22. Stevenson, James. 2003. Corn Chowder: Poems. New York: Greenwillow.
  23. Thoms, Annie. Ed. 2002. With Their Eyes. New York: HarperTempest.
  24. Turner, Ann. 2000. Learning to Swim; A Memoir. New York: Scholastic. 
  25. Yolen, Jane. 2012. Ekaterinoslav: One Family's Passage to America, a Memoir in Verse. Duluth, MN: HolyCow! Press.
  26. Yu, Chin. 2005. Little Green; Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster. 

Now head on over to Michelle's place for the Poetry Friday gathering at Today's Little Ditty.

Posting by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2014. All rights reserved.


Jeannine Atkins said...

Yes, exciting to see Jacqueline Woodson's wonderful new book get this attention. And thank you for the fabulous list. Always glad to add to my reading list in this form!

jama said...

Love this post, Sylvia. Thanks for the wonderful list -- I see I have a lot of reading to do. And hooray for Jacqueline Woodson!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Bookmarked! I'm sure I will be returning to this post again and again. Thanks, Sylvia!

Sylvia Vardell said...

So glad the list is helpful! Thank you for your kind comments. I think poetry is on a roll in recent years!

Carol said...

Sylvia- thank you for this fabulous list. Our school district is including a new memoir unit and I'll definitely be sharing your list with our teachers. I am on the never-ending reserve list to get hold of BROWN GIRL at the library. I may have to break down and buy it.

Mary Lee said...

Fascinating look at memoir written in poetry! Thanks, as always, for the extensive list of resources!! said...

I love reading memoirs and as poems perfect! Thanks so much for this list.

Linda said...

Thank you for the wonderful list of resources, Sylvia. I've read most of the ones you listed, but I did find a few I missed! Thank you!

Bridget Magee said...

So many books, so little time. I will be back often to reference this list. =)

Ruth said...

What a great post! Thank you!

Buffy Silverman said...

Terrific list, Sylvia--thanks for sharing it!

laurasalas said...

What a wonderful gathering of titles. A few of my favorites--MONSTEROLOGIST, WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT, and BEEN TO YESTERDAYS! Thanks, Sylvia!