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Read the award-winning memoir brown girl dreaming and participate in discussion:
The author of many books, Jacqueline Woodson writes mostly for young adults, producing what’s called YA literature. In brown girl dreaming she tells her life story in verse. In other words, instead of writing her life story in prose, organized into chapters, Woodson wrote poems and arranged them into five parts:
• i am born
• the stories of south carolina run like rivers
• followed the sky’s mirrored constellation to freedom
• deep in my heart, i do believe
• ready to change the world
Woodson ends her memoir with family photos, many of which inspired the poems. The people in the photos are also on the family tree, presented at the beginning of the book. (Note that David F. Walker also included a portrait gallery in his biography of Frederick Douglass.)
Poetry is meant to be read aloud, just as plays are written in order to be performed. I kept this idea in mind as I designed this reading activity.
As you browse Woodson’s memoir, imagine that you have been asked to return to your high school and give a poetry reading to the freshmen class. Each returning student will be highlighting a National Book Award Winner, and you have chosen brown girl dreaming.
You have time to read two poems from each of the five parts, for a total of ten poems. Your choices are guided by the following goals:
• to challenge assumptions the students might have about poetry
• to provoke a visceral response from the students, to get them to react as an audience
• to prompt personal reflection/introspection on the part of the students
• to captivate and hold the students’ attention
• to demonstrate that personal experiences often have political or social dimensions

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