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The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Griotsong Hardcover – January 13, 2009


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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
Acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Landline, offers a poignant, humorous look at relationships and marriage. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Karen Hunter; 1ST edition (January 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416566465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416566465
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

introduction

Sometimes there is a moment that makes you take notice.

Russell Goings's The Children of Children Keep Coming is the book for that moment, an epic poem that traces the journey of African-Americans in this country, that transcends pain and struggle and provides a vehicle for transformation, for weightiness that is light on its feet because of its music.

Like Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, The Children of Children Keep Coming reminds us of the necessity of art. People used to sit with each other and listen to poems detailing their shared cultural experience; The Children of Children Keep Coming is such a poem. In addition to the compelling story it tells, there is the richness of poetic devices in motion. Close your eyes. Bells are ringing; hands are clapping; feet are stomping. Over the course of the poem, motifs are picked up; a weightiness is gathered. Goings writes, "Is this the day / We pick up momentum?" If the poem itself is any indication, the answer would seem to be yes.

The Children of Children Keep Coming is a memorable book for a memorable moment.

This is not surprising, since it was written by such a remarkable man. I met Russell Goings when he visited Fairfield University in 1995, shortly after he returned from the Million Man March. A mutual friend of ours, Father Tom Regan, S. J., now the provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, suggested to Russ that he talk with me, since Russ had mentioned that he wrote poetry. I knew that he might stop by, but, as I recall, it was not a sure thing. I remember the day vividly. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I was busy grading some papers at my desk. Russ peeked around the door and introduced himself. He asked if I had a free moment. I said that I did, and welcomed him into my office. I put my pen down. We started talking. My life was never the same.

Anyone who meets Russ knows the dynamic force of his presence, which has served him well in the various successful contexts of his life -- professional football player, the first African-American to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, the founder of Essence, the friend and confidant of Romare Bearden -- but what I was not prepared for was the force of the rough draft of The Children of Children that greeted me that day. The afternoon light shone through the window and onto his poem. There was silence as I read. Russ interrupted my reading by wondering aloud if what he had written was any good. I looked up at him. I knew I was holding a manuscript that was monumental.

We talked about many things that day -- the Million Man March, poetry, his love of family, how he rose out of poverty to take on numerous challenges and surmount them. He is, after all, a man of stories. As the afternoon went on, he told me about his vision for The Children of Children Keep Coming, how he felt that everything that he had done in his life had led to this. I told him that he was the one to write the book, that he had to write the book. He paused, and then he nodded. A few days later, I was holding a new section.

This conversation went on for thirteen years, whether at Fairfield University, over the phone, or through the mail. Sometimes I would go to open my mailbox at home, and it was stuffed with pages. Many times over the years, he reminded me that, during the years of his friendship with Romare Bearden, they had a daily conversation, even as Bearden was battling cancer. When Bearden made a suggestion, Russ acted on it. That is what you do, he said, for your teacher. Such is the force of education; such is the pursuit of knowledge. You give everything to it -- your time, your intelligence, your heart and soul. Daily he worked. Sometimes there would be a knock on my door at home, and I would find the mailman standing there. The manuscripts were so big they would not fit in the mailbox. Sometimes Russ read sections to me over the phone, and the music crackled over the wires. He recorded CDs -- and he played all the characters -- so that he could test out the interaction of the children, and see the voices join together in performance. He wrote a version of The Children as a play. As the years went on, Russ took many creative writing and literature classes with me -- particularly the courses that had anything to do with poetry -- and we held hundreds of conversations about The Children. The Children kept coming.

The voices of both real and symbolic characters speak through Goings, who is griot and prophet, a vulnerable naked soul and a writer of the epic. It is a book, it seems, he was destined to write. Every day at 3 a.m. in his apartment, he gets up to get the voices down. I often picture him there, sitting in the quietest time of New York City. I see him with his pen and paper, because he writes everything by hand. I see a man who has combated dyslexia, poverty, racism; I see a man with vision in all its various manifestations; I see a man with more than perfect vision on the football field; I see a man who used to shine shoes and who was told by the voice behind those shoes that there was something called the Stock Market; I see a man who understands money; I see a man who, as a professional football player, was fined for being late to practice because he was reading a book of poetry; I see a man who wanted to celebrate the beauty of being Black through a national magazine; I see a man who understands the heritage of Romare Bearden; I see a man who values family and friendship, who thanks God for the blessings of each day; I see a man with incredible patience, who values the importance of hard work; I see a man who believes in America. The voices speak to him, and he listens. Some are the voices of America's icons, and some are anonymous. He writes all day. Then the next day he wakes up, he listens, and he begins again.

Ultimately, Goings made a decision to use Rosa Parks as a unifying figure for the book, and rightly so. On December 1, 1955, there was a moment. Rosa Parks was tired; her feet hurt; and racism hurt. It was time. Parks took a stand by taking a seat -- both on the bus and at the table of America's democracy. This is a tribute to one of America's great heroes, and Goings pays homage through the voice of the children:

You are more than kin.

We will always be true to you.

Pride and resolve lead to you.

Our fight grows with you.

We live and die with you.

There's no force that

Can separate you from us.

You are more than kin.

From her vantage point in the poem, she can look out over history and see the promise for the future:

When the Statue of Liberty turns and

Points its bright torch in our direction and

When her arms open wider

I know the great table is set.

Both visionary and quiet warrior, she is one of America's great agents for change.

In addition to the pivotal moment of Rosa Parks, Goings praises the contributions of Black women, both famous and not. They sing; they write; they encourage; they give birth. They pick everyone up; they keep going. They enrich. Harriet Tubman gets the children on the train of the Underground Railroad; Marian Anderson sings on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; Toni Morrison writes Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved. Oprah Winfrey (with the beautiful pun on her name -- win-free) talks, and people listen. In addition, The Children of Children Keep Coming has a special place in its heart for mothers. As Goings writes,

Color me woman.

Color me Black.

Color me faithful, hopeful.

Color me determined, loving.

Color my devotion eternal.

Color me mother earth.

The "I Am a Black Woman" section underscores the power of women to defy odds and to keep going for the children.

Yet men also speak of the importance of their children and of passing on their heritage. Everything is done with an eye toward the future:

God, let my son gleam in silver and gold.

Let him dream.

Let him sit under an apple tree.

Let him row from shore to shore,

Enjoying the fruits of liberty and democracy.

The poem ripples with the effects of the Million Man March, and with all the painful marches before: the march to freedom, the march to new places in history, the march to keep family together. And during that march through the generations of America's history, we hear the soulful notes of jazz and of the blues. We hear Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and John Coltrane. We hear Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. We hear Count Basie.

In addition, the book celebrates the importance of elders and history. By using the figures of Grandmother and Grandfather, Goings shows us how crucial it is that we understand and use the past. Grandmother and Grandfather frame the book, just as ancestors frame each individual. Part of this legacy is a reverence for education. Just as the elders lean on their canes, you can always lean on your education. The Children of Children Keep Coming is a book that celebrates knowledge:

No head is too small to birth a new thought,

No wrong is too bound to move to right.

No notion is too insignificant to stand in the head of one willing to die

For the right to hold knowledge.

It is only through a layered understanding of the past that you can be ready for the present moment and bear the promise of the future.

There are those who have been the keepers of knowledge, who have shared their knowledge, and who have created their share of moments. While many have been mentioned, there have been others: Phillis Wheatley and Sojourner Truth; Nat Turner, John Brown, and Abraham Lincoln; Ulysses S. Grant; Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington; Prudence Crandall and her girls; Margaret Walker and Zora Neale Hurston; Malcolm X; Paul Laurence Dunbar and James Weldon Johnson; Mahalia Jackson; Rita Dove, James Baldwin, and Gwendolyn Brooks; Lead Belly and Howlin' Wolf; Marcus Garvey; Yusef Komunyakaa, Jean Toomer, and C... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

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This book is truly inspiring!
G. Sako
As a kid, I imagined this "Railroad" as choo-chooing from the south up to the north like a subway car... only to learn the dangerous truth about it.
Nicole Duncan-smith
Martin Luther King as a visual aid to any discussion about great Black leaders.
Greg Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Coissiere "The Tough Critic" VINE VOICE on March 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I read the last words of The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Griotsong by Russell L. Goings, the first thing that popped into my head was blessed be the rock; thank you Jesus. Mr. Goings combined fictional characters with actual historic icons, whose sacrifices and determination made a lot of what we have today very possible. The entire story was written in poetry. At times, as I read, I could visualize the scene taking place. I felt the prayers, the chants, and songs along the way.

Mr. Goings introduced me to James Meredith, the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi. Dred Scott was another unknown to me before reading The Children of Children Keep Coming. Also, I have to mention the sketches throughout the book. Romare Bearden, the artist, did not get extremely elaborate with the images. He kept it simple, which was the right touch, since the topic of slavery and equality is a deep subject. In this one book, I read about those who were considered the property of others, up to where segregation was abolished and the freedom bell rang.

The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Griotsong is a book that I will pass on to my children. I recommend every family have a copy in their house. Families can take turns reading various verses and learn something new from every page

Jennifer Coissiere
APOOO BookClub
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on September 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Alex Haley's Roots brought to the screen a more thorough account of heritage, struggle and triumph. As I was reading the introduction to THE CHILDREN OF CHILDREN KEEP COMING: An Epic Griotsong, Roots immediately came to mind. THE CHILDREN OF CHILDREN begins with the spotlight on two runaway slaves. Their destiny is the Freedom Train where they have hopes of reaching freedom and liberation.

Interestingly done, Goings allows the slaves to dwell in the past, present and future. They encounter fields of laborers, plodding under sun high and moon low, and they are acutely aware that the toilers are sustained by work songs, that express the dreams and fears of the downtrodden and that also burst forth with unbound faith and optimism. The two travelers seek refuge where they can find it, as they roam through fields, stepping over graves of the once enslaved. Throughout their journey, they meet imaginary and mythological characters. At some point, they come to the full knowledge that there is a better future when Gongs exposes them to "giants" such as Frederick Douglass, Billie Holiday, Hank Aaron, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks. The voices of both real and symbolic characters speak through Goings, who wears the cloak of griot and prophet, a vulnerable soul, and a gifted writer. The genius of the book is based on how it is seamlessly connected by poetry and prose, blues and gospel, hymns and jazz, and work songs and prayers. The universal harmony with the runaway's cry for freedom and justice reaches a shattering pitch.

THE CHILDREN OF CHILDREN KEEP COMING: An Epic Griotsong is a powerful collection of poems that traces the journey of African-Americans in this country; that transcends pain and struggle and provides a vehicle for transformation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Duncan-smith on January 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a mother, I am always on the search for something for my daughter to read that will edify her culture and inspire her to take up the mantle of her fore-fathers and mothers. This book does that and then some.

The Children of Children Keep Coming is a fantastic book that takes us a mesmerizing journey from Slavery through out Civil Rights on the metaphoric Freedom train that redeems the child-like notion of the Underground Railroad that I grew up envisioning.

As a kid, I imagined this "Railroad" as choo-chooing from the south up to the north like a subway car... only to learn the dangerous truth about it. I was scarred and the magic of it all (and trust me the magic of freedom is real) was lost on visions of dogs tracking black men and evil men shooting other children whose only crime was freedom... This train ride, painted the struggle beautifully. I thank Mr. Goings for writing something that find love and beauty in the great struggle our people went through.

I think every child in America, if required to read Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Orson Wells or Hemmingway... should be invested in reading Goings. It is a true literary treasure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Greg Smith on January 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As an African American child, teachers seemed to draw a blank as to how to give us meat during Black History month. I mean, we got the standard "Black people are strong" and " they heralded great triumphs over slavery and prejudice" from well intentioned educators who tried to share what they knew. The windows in the classroom were tinted with cut outs of Harriet Tubman and Rev. Martin Luther King as a visual aid to any discussion about great Black leaders. There was always some little girl dressed as Rosa Parks and a little boy as George Washington Carver (complete with a peanut model for emphasis) identified to stand before the February Assembly to recite what they had learned about Black people during the month. But for me that was not enough. Oh how I yearned... for enough.

This book, The Children of the Children... completes a lack in creative study of how my ancestors must have felt and how their struggle continues. In a poetic tense, it makes it as riveting The Odyssey or The Illaid, the adventures of Siddhartha or the Bhava Gita... except the story is not foreign to me... it's as exotic but so familiar. More over it is a timely celebration of the dream of the slave: President Barack Obama.

The Children of Children is mine. It is ours. I am one of the children and I will make sure that all the young people I know... will be one of the children. This book is a must for all American's who care enough about that long train ride through history... like me you can get off at the White house.
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