Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Biographical Poetry

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
By Margarita Engle
Art by Sean Qualls
Henry Holt, 2006

This biography in verse is a story of a Cuban slave who loved poetry so much, he suffered for it. Engle tells the life story of Juan Francisco Manzano from his young childhood through the day he escapes slavery. Juan Francisco Manzano was a Cuban slave in the early 1800s. His mother was also a slave, but was given her freedom when she married. Juan had to live with the owner, who mistreated him, and was forbidden to see his mother for years. Juan managed to love words, write words, and had people sneaking him books. Manzano’s story is beautifully told through verse. Engle says she knew Manzano’s story HAD to be told in verse since it was his lifeblood. His story is told through poems in different voices including his own voice and those of his mother, his stepfather, the mistress, the master, and their son. Engle’s poetry is beautiful and really makes the slave poet’s life vivid, sad, and hopeful.
Engle includes a bibliography, a historical note, and translations of some of Manzano’s poems.

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