Saturday, October 3, 2015

Memoirs in Verse

An examination of poetry memoirs for young readers uncovers a wide variety of approaches and themes. Many writers have found poetry to be the ideal vehicle for exploring issues of culture, ethnicity, and race. Others have framed difficult subject matter, such as personal trauma and family problems, in the form of poem memoirs. ...[A]dult writers have used poetry to capture coming-of-age experiences in their growing-up years.
~Sylvia M. Vardell, "Memoirs in Verse", Booklinks April 2015

We've come across novels and memoirs in verse with a lot more frequency lately - Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for her memoir in verse last year, and Thanhha Lai won the same award for her memoir in 2011. We know that all ages are reading Young Adult these days, and don't ignore novels in verse - there are a lot of good ones out there! But why not start with a memoir?  Thanhha Lai, who has since written another children's book in a traditional narrative style, says this about writing her memoir in verse:

I have very specific reasons for writing in prose poems for "Inside Out And Back Again." You know, for years and years and years I could never get the voice right and I was working on this other novel. And finally one day I'm standing on a playground at 110th in Central Park and suddenly all these images started coming back to me. It would be sharp, quick images, like red and yellow hot dogs. And I realized, you know, I'm back inside the mind of that little girl who's standing on a playground in Montgomery, Ala., when I first entered this country. And I thought that's my voice. And I didn't know it was called prose poems and I had no idea tons of writers have been writing like this for years. This just tells you where my brain is. I thought that's how I'm going to convey that she's thinking in Vietnamese.

Take a look at some of the memoirs in verse in the library catalog, aimed at a variety of age groups, and see how you feel about their use of poetry to find their voice and capture their experiences.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (J)

Enchanted Air: A Cold War Memoir by Margarita Engle (YA)

Calling the Doves = El canto de las palomas by Juan Felipe Herrera  (J, international collection)

House of Houses by Pat Mora

Inside out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (J)

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson (YA)

A Movie In My Pillow = Una pelicula en mi almohada by Jorge Argueta (international collection)

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (YA)

Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose by Naomi Shihab Nye (J)

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford   (YA)

Like poetry? Don't forget to check out our Poetry LibGuide!

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