When I started reading Brown Girl Dreaming, it took me straight to my own writing, my own childhood, my own story. But that made it a slow read for me–I had to savor each poem! I must have read a dozen or more of these poems out loud to my family, just because I had to. And of course, as a person with a parent who has COPD, I found the gradual decline of her Daddy Gunnar to be deeply moving.
The more I read, though, the more I had to think about what Woodson was doing both as a poet and as a constructor of a larger narrative about her life and her story. The language is not spare, it’s full. In a world where spareness is generally demanded of poems, that is a brave and powerful choice that renders the voice of Woodson’s younger self effectively. However, the narrative _is_ spare. Woodson concentrates down on a few key characters: her family and her friend Maria. She also focuses on key strands of her life rather than trying to sprawl into every corner of memory: her family, her education, the civil rights movement, and her draw to storytelling and to writing.
I sped up as I neared the end; I couldn’t help it. It’s near the end when Woodson’s younger self sees her brother sing “Tingalayo” so beautifully and then discovers that storytelling is her “Tingalayo.” And I thought, Yes, of course. Yes. Yes. I am so glad and grateful that she found that space, found her way into telling those stories to the broader world.