The Borderlands of Self in brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

browngirldreaming.jpgJacqueline Woodson’s brown girl dreaming is a memoir. It unfolds slowly and surely in the present tense, told in the voice of one of the finest writers of our time. It is also history and family, music and language, and above all it taps the liminal quality of youth. Woodson draws the people in her life with tenderness, even while she filters them through memory, sees them with her younger eyes. Life events are served up as vignettes in poetry.

The family’s past and the children’s present are loaded with American history itself, the country’s terrible injustices embodied and mirrored in the lives of children and grownups, contained in family memories. Injustice, but also resistance, sometimes delivered up with humor and the hiss of spray paint.

Form and content are perfectly aligned. The verse narrative form itself allows the borders between past and present to be made permeable, so the reader can at once be on a sequential journey and flying forward on young Jackie’s wings of longing.

Because always in the book that interior self seems present. The emerging writing self, at once tentative and determined, filled with unexpected intuition, making connections beyond the obvious.

Maybe, I am thinking, there is something hidden
like this in all of us. A small gift from the universe
waiting to be discovered.

And emerge she does, within these pages. In the first haiku, in homage to Langston Hughes, in a series of delicate, numbered poems, each titled “how to listen.” In  the delicious realization that words on a page can make a person cry.

…on paper, things can live forever.
On paper, a butterfly
never dies.

Ah, Jackie Woodson. Your story matters, to be sung on an “orange afternoon” for all the brown girls who still need permission to dream in this crazy world.

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