From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 6 Up–This requiem honors a slave who died in Connecticut in 1798. His owner, a doctor, dissected his body, boiling down his bones to preserve them for anatomy studies. The skeleton was lost and rediscovered, then hung in a local museum until 1970, when it was removed from display. The museum began a project in the 1990s that uncovered the skeleton's provenance, created a new exhibit, and led to the commissioning of these six poems. The selections, which incorporate elements of a traditional requiem as well a New Orleans jazz funeral, arc from grief to triumph. A preface lays out the facts of Fortune's life, followed by "Dinah's Lament," in which his wife mourns the husband whose bones she is ordered to dust. Other pieces are in the voices of Fortune's owner, his descendants, workers, and museum visitors. The penultimate "Not My Bones," sung by Fortune, states, "What's essential about you/is what can't be owned." Each page of verse faces a green page containing text and full-color archival graphics that lay out the facts of Fortune's story. This volume sets history and poetry side by side and, combined with the author's personal note on inspirations, creates a unique amalgam that can be confusing at first. Subsequently, however, the facts inform the verse and open up a full appreciation of its rich imagery and rhythmic, lyrical language. The book brings the past to life and could make for a terrific choral reading.–Nancy Palmer, The Little School, Bellevue, WA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 7-12. Fortune was a slave in eighteenth-century Connecticut, and when he died, his owner, a physician, rendered the bones to teach anatomy. In 1933 the physician's family donated the skeleton to the local Mattatuck Museum. Recently, the museum researched Fortune's story, and Connecticut Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson, author of the award-winning Carver: A Life in Poems
(2001), has written a series of six stirring poems to honor Fortune's life. Part funeral mass, part freedom celebration, her spare words are clear about the harshness of his servitude and what his remains tell about his backbreaking labor. In the climactic poem, "Not My Bones," Fortune himself speaks: "You can own someone's body, / the soul runs free." Nelson's small poems are framed by a wealth of facts as well as archival photos and images from the museum exhibit. Should Fortune's skeleton be kept on display, or should it be buried in consecrated ground? Moved by the poetry and the history, readers will want to join the debate. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved