From Publishers Weekly
The first African-American student to reach the final round of the National Spelling Bee, 13-year-old MacNolia Cox of Akron, Ohio, found short-lived celebrity in 1936; when she died 40 years later, the girl who "was almost/ The national spelling champ" had become a cleaning woman, a grandmother, and "the best damn maid in town." Cox's ambition and her later frustration find incisive shape in this remarkably varied meditation on ambition, racism, discouragement and ennui, where successive pages can bring to mind a handbook of poetic forms (a double sestina, Japanese-inspired syllabics, a blues ghazal and prose poems based on definitions of prepositions), Ann Carson's "TV Men" poems, Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah
and the documentary film Spellbound
. Jordan (Rise
) begins in Cox's later life, giving voice to her husband, John Montiere, at "The Moment Before He Asks MacNolia Out on a Date," then to MacNolia herself when in 1970 her son dies just after his return from Vietnam. As counterpoints, Jordan intersperses poems about African-Americans who won more lasting public acclaim, among them Richard Pryor, Josephine Baker and the great labor organizer and orator A. Philip Randolph. Jordan's most quotable poems, however, return to the voice of the 13-year-old speller, who "learned the word chiaroscuro/ By rolling it on my tongue// Like cotton candy the color/ Of day and night."
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A deeply humane and highly imaginative sequence. It is a necessary work. -- Edward Hirsch
Full of affection, humor, and ironic recognitions about the life and times of [his] heroine, MacNolia. -- Tom Sleigh
Generous and genuine poemsand many a spirit is raised by the strength of Jordan's confident voice. -- Eleanor Wilner
Jordan can blow a poem the way Coltrane blows a horn, but a little bluer like Miles. -- Joy Harjo
Multi-voiced and multi-faceted...captures an important figure who has been too long obscure. Memorable and haunting. -- Library Journal, 1 April 2004
Storytelling at its best, and poetry taken to new heights. -- E. Ethelbert Miller
What will delight and thrill readers more than the various themes is the collection's brilliant lyricism. (Michael Collier -- Norton