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Book Review: Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

Publisher’s description

From Children’s Literature Legacy Award-winning author Nikki Grimes comes a feminist-forward new collection of poetry celebrating the little-known women poets of the Harlem Renaissance—paired with full-color, original art from today’s most talented female African-American illustrators.

For centuries, accomplished women—of all races—have fallen out of the historical records. The same is true for gifted, prolific, women poets of the Harlem Renaissance who are little known, especially as compared to their male counterparts. 

In this poetry collection, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of these groundbreaking women-and to introduce readers to their work. 

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting female African-American illustrators, including: Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Cozbi Cabrera, Pat Cummings, Nina Crews, Laura Freeman, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, April Harrison, Ekua Holmes, Keisha Morrison, Daria Peoples-Riley, Andrea Pippins, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

Legacy also includes a foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, and poet biographies, which make this a wonderful resource and a book to cherish.

Amanda’s thoughts

I thought maybe I’d read a few poems in between reading other things. I did not do that. Instead, I read the entire book in one go, went back to read favorites, and started googling the writers I learned about in this book. How is it that my undergrad degrees are in English and Women’s Studies, and I took multiple classes on women poets, American literature, AND Harlem Renaissance writers and knew none of these names?! Thank goodness this book showed up to teach me.

Grimes set out to rescue and celebrate the voices of Black women poets of the Harlem Renaissance era and did a phenomenal job with this collection. A preface talks about how many men writing in this era were (and are) well-known, but gifted, prolific women were overlooked and forgotten. These women were not just poets but also editors of literary magazines and anthologies and played large roles in what was happening at this time. Grimes teaches readers a little bit about the Harlem Renaissance, like the conditions, movements, and ethos of the time. She explains the roles played by the Great Migration, the Nineteenth Amendment, women pursuing education, Black-owned newspapers/literary magazines/journals, and the new literati. All of this lays a foundation for the poems and illustrations that follow.

As she did in One Last Word, Grimes uses the Golden Shovel form here, creating new poems from a short poem or line from a poem. She presents the original work, then presents her own poem in conversation with that (using the Golden Shovel form), and then an illustration follows. Taken all together, these three elements create a stunning picture that shows so much power and emotion. I started noting which poems were my favorite as I took notes and ended up with nearly a dozen that really stuck with me. These poems are full of pain, power, pride, feminism, hope, community, identity, and strength. They deserve to be widely known.

The collection includes extensive resources, poet and artist biographies, and sources. This beautiful and moving collection deserves a spot in all libraries. What a wonderful addition this would be for poetry units. Not to be missed.

For more on this collection, please see my interview with Nikki Grimes.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781681199443
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 01/05/2021
Age Range: 10 – 14 Years

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