Each day a new world
opens itself up to you. And all the worlds you are. . .
. . .gather into one world
where you decide
what each world
and each story
and each ending
will finally be.
The poetry of Brown Girl Dreaming fills pages like Polaroid snap shots, described through the nostalgic lens of a child (Jacqueline Woodson). I was struck- albeit not surprised- by my ability to insert myself in many of the poems as though they were my own experiences. Woodson’s stories of racism and prejudice continue to be relevant to the experiences of many black women and other people of color. Having grown up in Evangelical Protestantism, I identified with the stories of proselytism and indoctrination. As a writer, I also identified with young Jacqueline’s love affair with words:
“How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again. “
Each poem is written in present tense as if it were still happening in real time. The reader is compelled to stay and finish the story, making it easy to lose time while reading and engaging with the lesson at hand. Indeed, some of the stories present lessons, such as the “How to Listen” series of that occurs throughout. These haikus signal the reader like a signpost, letting them know it is time to pause and reflect:
“Even the silence
has a story to tell you.
Just listen. Listen.”
Woodson’s use of meter and line breaks allows for the blend between reality (what actually may have happened) and imagination (what Woodson envisions). This blend bridges age gaps, cross-cultural and religious boundaries, colors, tastes and sounds to create a past that anyone may live through and learn from. I was particularly touched by “Stevie and Me,” which portrays young Jacqueline’s first encounter with a character in a storybook that looks like her. In the Author’s Note, when asked if she “had a hard life,” Woodson remarks, “ I think my life was very complicated and very rich. Looking back on it, I think my life was at once very ordinary and amazing. I couldn’t imagine any other life … I couldn’t ask for anything more.” The reader of Brown Girl Dreaming may simply experience life through another, or may possibly come to know and realize a contentment in his or her own life. – Brandy Burgess
Also by Jacqueline Woodson: Locomotion; After Tupac and D Foster; If You Come Softly; The Other Side; Each Kindness; Feathers; Miracle’s Boys; Show Way; Beneath a Meth Moon; I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This; Coming On Home Soon; From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun; This is the Rope:This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration; Visiting Day; Behind You; Maizon at the Blue Hill; The House You Pass on the Way; Pecan Pie Baby; The Dear One; Hush; We Had a Picnic this Sunday Paast; Our Gracie Aunt; Between Madison and Palmetto; Autobiography of a Family Photo; Way Out of No Way; Lena; Marrtin Luther King, Jr., and His Birthday; Write Now!