Marilyn Nelson skillfully uses poetry to form the image of Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962) in this distinctive and thought-provoking YA biography.
Savage, the seventh of 14 children, faced opposition to her art from her father. Nelson hauntingly illustrates the unstoppable fortitude that art ignited in Savage despite this opposition, even at a young age: "Her father's/ fear of his God drove him to search for her/ secret hiding places, to cut switches,/ to beat the living daylights of art's sin/ out of her, a man beating back wildfire." As Savage pursued her passion, she married a supportive partner with a wonderfully suitable name she would keep even after their marriage ended. And Savage managed to forge a career out of the very skill her father attempted to smother. Nelson takes her readers through Savage's commission to sculpt W.E.B. Du Bois, her role in the Harlem Renaissance and the devastation of losing a scholarship to study in France because of her race. Yet no matter the roadblock, Savage powered on.
Nelson's (How I Discovered Poetry) striking verse gives powerful voice to the highs and lows the artist experienced, and the accompanying photographs of Savage's sculptures are awe-inducing. Nelson periodically uses concrete poems to mirror Savage's art, such as the harp shape for the poem "The Harp," which conveys the story of Savage's commission to create a sculpture for the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. This astute portrait of Savage, who overcame many obstacles to pursue her calling, celebrates the talent, tenacity and benevolence that shaped her character and changed the world of art. --Jen Forbus, freelancer