Tag Archives: Black history month

A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL

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A Wreath for Emmett Till
Author: Marilyn Nelson
Illustrated by Philippe Lardy
Genre: Poetry, published in this format for young readers
Paperback Edition includes historical notes, sonnet notes, and artist notes
Source: Personal copy

“Forget him not. Though if I could, I would”

Marilyn Nelson is a poet whose work I have come to love more with each passing year. I first discovered her when I worked for a time with literature for K-12 students. Now that I try to write poems, I am in awe of her writing.

Any month is a good time to read the history of our country as it includes people of color. But the designation of February as Black History month reminds some of us to focus attention on the experiences of people of color in our nation.

The line at the opening of this post is from A Wreath For Emmett Till. Emmet Till was a fourteen year-old boy who was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was dragged from his uncle’s house, beaten and lynched. Some accounts claimed he had whistled at a white woman. The sonnets Marilyn Nelson has written are more than a tribute to Emmet Till, more than a description of what happened, they challenge readers to better understand our world.

The sonnets are interlinked making one long poem. The last line of one sonnet becomes the first line of the next one. This group of poems is often referred to as a crown of sonnets. The author has written that the structure of the poems helped her deal with the pain of the subject.

“Emmett Till’s name still catches in my throat,” This line ends #3 and begins #4 sonnets.

“Let me gather spring flowers for a wreath.
Not lilacs from the dooryard, but wildflowers
I’d search for in the greening woods for hours.” From #10
She shares with us that she uses natural elements in these sonnets to contrast with the horror of what happened to this boy in 1955.

Reading this sonnet enables the reader to feel some of the emotion surrounding this young man who is part of the representation of unnecessary, tremendous loss of people of color in American history. Isabel Wilkinson writing in a opinion piece in a recent New York Times reminds us that in the years preceding the migration of southern blacks to points north “a black person was lynched on average every four days.” Today according to FBI statistics “an African American is killed by a police officer every three and a half days.” These ideas are difficult to comprehend.

A Wreath for Emmtt Till is a moving elegy, a way to honor those lost and in a strange way comforting to this reader. I love the words, the images, the rhythm and the illustrations in this book, a wonderful addition to any home library.

READEATLIVE LIST: TEN THINGS TO DO BEFORE FEBRUARY DISAPPEARS

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1. It’s Black History Month. Read a selection to celebrate African Americans, their history and contributions to society. What about Twelve Years A Slave, the book that inspired the award winning movie? Author Rachel Kushner calls it an incredible document. I also recommend The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkinson’s sweeping, readable history of migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West. If you wish to listen to a more recent voice, Men We Reap by Jesmyn West is an emotional and riveting memoir. (See readeatlive.com posted January 2, 2014 and accessed through the January archives or search by title for Missing Mississippi.)

2. Honor the work of the late, acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman by seeing one of his movies: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), Capote (2005), Moneyball (2011) Doubt (2008) or your personal favorite.

3. Read a good romance, perhaps Anna Quindlen’s new book Still Life With Bread Crumbs. This may be the one for you.

4. Enjoy a pizza! Here are few suggestions: Mellow Mushroom, found all over the south and a few are showing up in the West, Pizzalley in St. Augustine, Buddy’s Pizza, numerous locations in the Detroit area, Rastrelli’s in Clinton Iowa or try the latest light pizza in your neighborhood.

5. House of Cards is available Feb. 14 from Netflix. Watch one of the hottest shows on television as much and as fast as you can. Robin Wright is unforgettable.

6. See an Oscar nominated movie you have missed so far: Philomena, Dallas Buyers’s Club, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, American Hustle or the one you most want to see.

7. Read a new book from the bestseller list. What about Sycamore Row by John Grisham or The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt?

8. Give a gift to your Valentine: flowers, chocolate, a Starbucks date, a romantic dinner, a trip to your favorite museum or a couple’s workout. A bottle of your sweetheart’s favorite wine and a trip to the beach to watch the stars sounds like an exceptional gift for the occasion.

9. Walk a winter trail or a beach. Climb an Arizona Mountain Trail or hike Saguaro National Park. Try the Riverwalk in Detroit or Tulsa’s River Trail along the Arkansas River. Hit the nearest State Park in Kentucky, Illinois, Florida or wherever you are.

10. Learn more about our February presidents: Washington and Lincoln. These recommended books will be well worth your time. 1776 by David McCullough, George Washington: The Crossing by Mark Levin, Writing the Gettysburg Address by Martin P. Johnson, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.