I prowl around for prompts.
And so I found inspiration in HEART TO HEART, edited by Jan Greenberg.
This collection of visual art features poems created by writers who feel a connection to a work of art. When I paged to Faith Ringgold’s art and Angela Johnson’s poem, “From Above” I felt a tingle. Angela’s poem is inspired by Faith Ringgold picture book, TAR BEACH, a favorite I pulled right off my shelf. I turned to the starry night, rooftop image in the poem, and luxuriated in reading both the poet’s words and the artist’s words, seeing the artist’s images, and then I reread the whole story.
Next I pulled from my shelves other titles, centering on the theme of honoring good stories featuring African-Americans, both in fiction and non-fiction genres.
Thus arrived my recent Friday workshop for writers I collect with regularly.
We each selected a book rich with images. Then we each selected a work of art within that picture book. And then we started a poem, with the artwork as catalyst.
The title that pulled me to it centers on a theme involving slavery and emancipation that I haven’t seen much about. The story is WALKING HOME TO ROSIE LEE by A. LaFaye, an author whose historical fiction is a valued staple on my shelves. And we are colleagues, through the Hollins University MFA Children’s Lit. program. This picture book is illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd. I selected a ROSIE LEE scene where the child character finds his mother. This unfolds in the confusion following Emancipation, when many families searched tirelessly to re-create as whole as possible, their families that had been harshly separated by slavery.
“A Pie So Sweet” by A LaFaye
I remember the exact smell when I found Mama
Walking for days and days, I didn’t find much sweetness in that air
until a lady set a pie out on a window
but the breeze must have decided to carry the scent of those fresh hot blueberries the other way
because I didn’t smell anything
Still, I came down that big hill, closer to the bottom and that big hotel
until I saw her eyes still sweet gray like a kitten
and a scarf at her neck still covering something not sweet –
the scar from when she tried to run for Freedom and they brought her back by dragging her
but she survived that
Now came this day
It’s Freedom Day
The end of my walking to find Mama, baker of sweet pies
It was the pie that found me my Mama
A pie so sweet
Workshop Friday books:
Mama Miti Donna Jo Napoli/Kadir Nelson
Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky Faith Ringgold
Planting The Trees of Kenya Claire A. Nivola
Tar Beach Faith Ringgold
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice Philip Hoose
Walking Home to Rosie Lee A LaFaye/ Keith D. Shepherd
Martin’s Big Words Doreen Rappaport/Bryan Collier
Always My Dad Sharon Dennis Wyeth/Raul Colon
SIT-IN Andrea Davis Pinkney/Brian Pinkney
The Story of Ruby Bridges Robert Coles/George Ford
The catalytic book is HEART TO HEART, edited by Jan Greenberg.
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