This is the winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry in 2005:
Marilyn Nelson. Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. Asheville, NC: Front Street Books, 2004.
Here is a Readers' Guide created by Lori Walters Barbara.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marilyn Nelson Author Biography: Marilyn Nelson grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and the daughter to a U.S. serviceman in the Air Force and teacher. Marilyn’s love for writing began while in elementary school. Her love for words lead her to earn her BA from the University of California, Davis. Nelson also holds postgraduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (MA, 1970) and the University of Minnesota (PhD, 1979). Dr. Nelson is a three-time National Book Award Finalist. She has won the Annisfield-Wolf Award and the 1999 Poets' Prize.
Dr. Nelson’s Carver: A Life In Poems won the 2001 Boston Globe/Hornbook Award and the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Book, and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book.
Fortune’s Bones The Manumission Requiem, is a Coretta Scott King Honor Book and won the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. A Wreath For Emmett Till won the 2005 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and was a 2006 Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a 2006 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and a 2006 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book. The Cachoiera Tales And Other Poems won the L.E. Phillabaum Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Sweethearts of Rhythm, released in 2009 from Dial and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Dr. Nelson served as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2001 through 2006. Since 1978 she has taught at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she is a professor of English.
Notes and Annotations
by Pamela Espeland
Pamela Espeland is a published author, editor, and an illustrator of 43 children's books and young adult books. Some of her published credits include: Feelings to Share from a to Z, See You Later, Procrastinator! (Get It Done) (Laugh & Learn series) and Dude and That's Rude!: (Get Some Manners) (Laugh and Learn).
Ms. Espeland’s detailed notes and archival photographs enhance the reader’s appreciation of the historical poetry comprised in Fortune's Bones, The Manumission Requiem.
Nelson, Marilyn, 2004, Fortune’s Bones The Manumission Requiem, Asheville,
North Carolina, Front Street, ISBN 1932425128 BOOK SUMMARY (Poetry, young adult, ages 12 and up)
A Newbery and Coretta Scott King honoree, Fortune’s Bones, The Manumission Requiem, delivers poems that commemorates the life of an 18th-century Connecticut man who was a husband, a father, a baptized Christian, and a slave. This historical collection of poems, includes detailed notes and archival photographs of skeletal bones that are found and have been located in the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut since 1798. Over several centuries, the bones became the subject and speculation in Waterbury, and in 1996 a group of community-based volunteers, working in collaboration with the museum staff, discovered the bones were those of a slave named Fortune who had been owned by a local doctor. Dr. Porter, preserved Fortune’s skeleton to further his study in anatomy.
Written as a manumission requiem, the collection of poems merges the sadness of a requiem, a traditional mass for the dead, with the celebration of freedom, or a manumission. This collection of poems captures the historical hardships of Fortune’s life and eloquently reveals the internal beauty within his historical bones.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up- This requiem honors a slave who died in Connecticut in 1798. His owner, a doctor, dissected his body, boiling down his bones to preserve them for anatomy studies. The skeleton was lost and rediscovered, then hung in a local museum until 1970, when it was removed from display. The museum began a project in the 1990s that uncovered the skeleton's provenance, created a new exhibit, and led to the commissioning of these six poems. The selections, which incorporate elements of a traditional requiem as well a New Orleans jazz funeral, arc from grief to triumph. A preface lays out the facts of Fortune's life, followed by "Dinah's Lament," in which his wife mourns the husband whose bones she is ordered to dust. Other pieces are in the voices of Fortune's owner, his descendants, workers, and museum visitors. The penultimate "Not My Bones," sung by Fortune, states, "What's essential about you/is what can't be owned." Each page of verse faces a green page containing text and full-color archival graphics that lay out the facts of Fortune's story. This volume sets history and poetry side by side and, combined with the author's personal note on inspirations, creates a unique amalgam that can be confusing at first. Subsequently, however, the facts inform the verse and open up a full appreciation of its rich imagery and rhythmic, lyrical language. The book brings the past to life and could make for a terrific choral reading.
-Nancy Palmer, The Little School, Bellevue, WA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In 1798, Fortune, a slave owned by Dr. Preserved Porter, a bonesetter, died; rather than bury him, Dr. Porter rendered his corpse and preserved his bones for anatomical study. Nelson remembers and celebrates Fortune in this slim funeral mass, moving from grief to joy, envisioning Fortune's moment of death as his deliverance from slavery to the ultimate freedom. As in Carver (2001), the poems of the cycle have multiple voices, from the doctor who owned the body but not the man within it, to Fortune himself and the enslaved wife who is forced to clean her husband's bones. The central question-where does humanity reside?-receives thoughtful, fervent consideration: it's a glorious reclamation of a man whose identity had been assailed from the moment of his birth to beyond his death. The poems are printed on the recto; facing them is an ongoing prose narrative of Fortune's life and afterlife, punctuated by photos, illustrations, and archival materials. While at times these can distract, they cannot dim the incandescence of the poetry, or the keen-eyed glimpse into one small moment in the American "Peculiar Institution" it provides.
(bibliography) (Poetry. 12+)
AWARDS AND HONORS
•Coretta Scott King Honor Book - 2005
•Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry
Before Reading the Book
1- Have students look at the book cover. Ask them to consider the illustrations, book title, etc. Ask students to predict what the book is about. Initiate a group discussion on the student’s observations.
2- Ask the students if they know the definition of manumission. In addition, ask them to define requiem. Provide students with definitions for both. After defining these key terms, ask students to read the inside book jacket. Explain that Dr. Nelson’s book is a collection of poems that commemorate a slaves life more than 200 years after his death.
3- Ask students, “What do you know about slavery in U.S. history?” Provide a KWL organizer to obtain what students know, what they want to know and to also provide a review for what the students learn.
4- Ask students, “What is a biography? How do poets write and capture historical biographies?” Ask students which they think would be easier, writing a traditional biography or a collection of biographical poems?
SUGGESTIONS FOR READING POEMS ALOUD
1- Think Aloud - Select one of the poems from Fortune’s Bones, to read aloud. Perform a think aloud, verbalizing your thoughts while reading aloud to the students. Discuss with students that this is a process experienced readers actually do to ensure their comprehension. List the five strategies that poor comprehenders appear to lack: predicting, forming mental images while reading, using what they already know about the topic (prior knowledge), monitoring how well they are comprehending during reading, and fixing problems as they occur when reading. Highlight these strategies as you read aloud to the class. Once, you have read the poem, pair up students and have them select a different poem from the book. Have students practice the procedure with one another. Each can take turns reading and responding to the other.
2- Choral Reading - Model the reading of a poem for the class, then have students read aloud together (whole class or smaller groups). This provides weaker students a chance to practice without embarrassment.
3- Fluent Oral Reading - “Perform” poems for students by reading aloud with appropriate tone, inflection, gestures and movement. Practice the above think aloud strategies. If your poem or collection of poems has audio/video readings available, use these for additional models of fluent oral reading. Encourage students to read aloud poems they choose and have practiced. Include discussion of their choice of poem .
4-Reader’s Theatre - Use a reader’s theatre format for small groups to write, script and perform poetry. Use subjects such as historical events, politics/government and cultural diversity to initiate dialogue on these subjects.
5-Technology Poetry - Have students coordinate their recitation with a PowerPoint presentation of the text. Use transitions and imagery to enhance the listener’s appreciation of the poem.
6- I-Poetry - Using the IMovie Apple application, record students’ recitations of poetry and create a mini-movie with text, imagery and music. Show movies during class and post to a blog for parents to view.
FOLLOW UP EXTENSIONS
Language Arts/Literature 1- Have the class research famous historical slaves. Have students write a profile of themselves as a slave. This would include:
•What kind of a household they live in
•What kind of a person or family owns them
•What kind of work they are expected to do
•Any relatives they may have--do they live with those relatives?
•Anything else that might be important
2- Once the students have established their slave identity, have students:
•Write a poem about their life.
•Write an expository composition about the hardships of slavery from their point of view.
1- Have students select and research a famous historical slave. Once they have completed their research, have the students: Pretend they are that person and think about what their life would be like.
•Write a letter to a friend or family member describing their life. (Include information about how they became a slave.
•Write a letter to your governor to petition for their freedom. Why do they want to be free and why should they be freed?
2- Place students in small groups, have each group research different aspects of a slave’s life. This could include, diet, plantation life, music, clothing, religion, etc. Have each group present a report/project about the topic and present it to the class.
3- View the show: Slavery and the Making of America: Seeds of Destruction. After watching, discuss: What was surprising in the video? Did the students learn anything they didn't know before? Is there something the students want to know more about?
4- Have students research slave journals and diary entries at: http://www.slaveryinamerica.org/resources/resources_gateway.html. Give students a slave journal which they will record entries into for two weeks. Remind students to include elements such as mood, emotion, etc., and to discuss areas of their lives such as family, food, traditions, etc. At the end of the two weeks, have the students read aloud, in character, their favorite diary entry. In addition, have students create an illustration/painting that depicts the entry and display both pieces throughout the classroom.
5- Have students timeline slavery in America . Use http://www.innercity.org/holt/chron_1790_1829.html to find the chronology of U.S. slavery.
1- Have students view paintings by Steele Burden, and Johnnie Mae Maberry-Gilbert. Discuss how Burden and Maberry-Gilbert created brilliant images as visual memorials to life on plantations and to the lives of slaves.
2- Have students paint or use mixed media to portray life on a plantation or as a slave. Have students present their art work and pose the following questions to the class critics:
•How does the image make you feel?
•As a result of viewing the art, what did you learn about life as a slave?
3- Reader’s Theatre-
Have students divide into 3-4 groups and research slavery in Connecticut in late 1700s. Have students reference http://www.aaronshep.com/rt/whatis.html for a thorough understanding of all aspects of a reader’s theatre. Have each group write and script a scene that portrays an aspect of slavery assigned by the teacher (culture, family, hardships, etc.). Have each group, construct their own props, set and costumes.
4- Host the reader’s theatre and invite parents to attend.
RELATED WEB SITES
Timeline of Slavery in Connecticut
The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University
African American Resources at The Connecticut Historical Society
The Connecticut State Library
Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Curriculum Unit: Slavery in Connecticut 1640-1848 by David L. Parsons
Africans in America (PBS Online)
Slavery in 18th Century New England: Stanley-Whitman House, Farmington
National Slavery Museum
Afrolumens Project: African American History in Central Pennsylvania http://www.afrolumens.org/
World History Archives
Slavery in the North
Documenting the American South
Religion in Early America
Farming in the Thirteen Colonies
A Colonial Family in Connecticut
Slave Movement During the 18th and19th Centuries
Chronology on the History of Slavery
Connecticut and Slavery
OTHER RELATED READING
Raymond Bial, The Strength of These Arms: Life in the Slave Quarters. Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
Tom Feelings, The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo. Dial Books, 1995.
Barbara Greenwood, The Last Safe House: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Kids Can Press, 1998.
James Haskins, Bound for America: The Forced Migration of Africans to the New World. HarperCollins, 1999.
James Haskins, Building a New Land: African Americans in Colonial America. Amistad Press, 2001.
Deborah Kent, African-Americans in the Thirteen Colonies. Children's Press, 1996.
Alice McGill, Molly Bannacky. Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Almost to Freedom. Carolrhoda Books, 2003.
Shelley Pearsall, Trouble Don't Last. Yearling, 2003.
Doreen Rappaport, No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance. Candlewick Press, 2002.
Mary Stolz, Cezanne Pinto. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1994.
Israel P. Warren, Chauncey Judd, or The Stolen Boy: A Story of the Revolution. Naugatuck, CT: The Perry Press, 1906 (originally published 1874)
Jeanette Winter, Follow the Drinking Gourd. Dragonfly Books, 1992.