Summary: Memoir of a childhood, in verse.
It was not really intentional, but I read Brown Girl Dreaming right after I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I read them together because the holds at the library came one right after the other.
But I have to assume that Jacqueline Woodson was influenced by Maya Angelou. Both are writing beautifully lyrical books about their childhoods. Both were expertly narrated by the authors. But Brown Girl Dreaming was entirely in verse. I am not sure I have ever read a book of narrative verse quite like this.
I listened to the audiobook, so I missed out on the visual nature of the verse, although I did use Amazon’s preview feature to read a couple pages of the verses. This is a book I am going to buy so that I can read it again in print.
I have a lousy background in poetry. Other than an excellent class in college on Emily Dickinson. And an excellent class in high school on Shakespeare, I do not think I really studied poetry. I am far from an expert, but the flow of this was extraordinary. I learned from my Emily Dickinson classed how important proper reading of poetry is. My professor knew how to properly read Dickinson and it mattered. Woodson knows how to read her poetry and it matters to the way it flows to the ear.
Reading back to back two memoirs of childhood by two Black women a generation apart, I could not help but reflect on the role of being Black plays in these two memoirs. I cannot think of a memoir of a White author that seriously thinks about what it means to be White except for a couple that were expressly about racial issues. I cannot think of a memoir that I have read by a non-White author that does not include a reflection of what it means to be Black, Asian, etc.
Color blind ideology is disproved every time you read a memoir like these because race matters to the experience of what it means to be human in the US. The difference is that for Whites, the race matters, but the normative culture that says that White is normal and not necessary to reflect on. Race matters to minorities because they are not White and at some point every minority has to come to understand what that means because culturally White is normative.
I remember a couple years ago CNN did a series of videos about when the person realized they were Black. I ran across them because of Eugene Scott, who worked for CNN at the time and did one of the videos tweeted about them. I thought at the time, and these books confirmed again, that personal recognition of our racial identity is something most Whites never think about, or at least not as a child. But all of the videos identified a point in time as a child when they knew what it meant to be Black.
I noted in my reading report that I have been trying to read more diverse authors and that I am not doing as well I want. But the past couple books has confirmed to me why it is important that I keep working to diversify my reading.
Brown Girl Dreaming is really well written, expertly narrated, and unique in style. It is a book I definitely recommend, and one that I will read again. There is a reason it won a National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, a Newberry Honor and an award for the recording.