One night in the early 1930s, William Edmondson, the son of former slaves and a janitor in Nashville, Tennessee, heard God speaking to him. And so he began to carve – tombstones, birdbaths, and stylized human figures, whose spirits seemed to emerge fully formed from the stone. Soon Edmondson's talents caught the eye of prominent members of the art world, and in 1937 he became the first black artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Here, in twenty-three free-verse poems, award-winning poet Elizabeth Spires gives voice to Edmondson and his creations, which tell their individual stories with wit and passion. With stunning photographs, including ten archival masterpieces by Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Edward Weston, this is a compelling portrait of a truly original American artist.
About the Author
I was born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1952 and grew up nearby in Circleville. By the time I was twelve, I had decided to be a writer. My plan (influenced by my admiration for Flannery O’Connor) was to become a short story writer. For some reason, that never happened. Instead, in college at Vassar, I began writing poetry seriously. This has led to my publishing four collections of poetry for adults (Globe, Swan’s Island, Annonciade, and Worldling). My daughter, Celia, who is seven, defined poetry one day (very appropriately, I thought) as “playing with words.” I have “played with words,” I believe, in my writing for children: in two books of riddles, With One White Wing and Riddle Road, and, of course, in The Mouse of Amherst. Ever since I was a girl, I have admired and loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I have memorized many of her poems, and recently wrote a short piece on my first encounter with Dickinson for The Bulletin of the Poetry Society of America. Although I didn’t analyze my reasons for writing The Mouse of Amherst while I was writing it, I think now that I wanted to express the depth and complexity of poetic inspiration, friendship, and apprenticeship. That’s thinking of it purely in adult terms. But I hope children will identify with Emmaline, the novice poet, and perhaps be inspired to write some poems themselves . . . for no reason other than the sheer joy of expressing themselves when they feel an emotion or idea bubbling up inside them. Ideally, I hope my writing for children will lead them somewhere they have never been imaginatively, and that it will help them believe and delight in the power of words and language! Elizabeth Spires' work includes The Mouse of Amherst (1999), A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the year, I Am Arachne (2001), and her latest novel, I Heard God Talking to Me (2009)
“The larger questions--what is it that art, in various media, can show us--appeal to a broad audience, on beyond our fascination with this one artist.” —Chicago Tribune
“Simple and powerful.” —The New York Observer
“A beautiful book.” —The Charlotte Observer
“Spires has presented readers with a delightful glimpse into the life and work of a relative unknown. This is a special book.” —STARRED, School Library Journal
“Spires . . . has crafted a memorable tribute to an important artist through words dexterously pulled from stone.” —BookPage
“A veritable treasure.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Will encourage both youth and adult readers to explore the rich interplay between poetry and art.” —Booklist
“Though the concept is sophisticated as well as imaginative, Spires' eloquent verses are certainly accessible to young readers, and they're effective blends of the concrete and the imaginative; while playfulness predominates in the poetry as art, there's a sense of wonder and a vivid respect for the artist that underpins the humor.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
“A Beautiful book pairing Spires' poems with photos of the self-taught sculptor who became the first black artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art.” —St. Petersburg Times