Friday, September 1, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis

Many years ago I was sent a manuscript of a novel that was written in blank verse. I will honestly say that I was dreading reading it, but as soon as I began I was hooked. It was so beautifully written, and at times I was in tears as I turned the pages (I was still getting printed manuscripts in the mail at this time.) Since then I have sought out novels written in verse and have spent many hours exploring this wonderful form of writing.

Today I bring you an extraordinary example of this poetry genre. The narrative tells the story of a young woman who had to overcome a great deal in her life. We know very little about her, but thankfully we can still look at some of the beautiful sculptures that she created (see an example of her work below the review).

Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia LewisStone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis
Jeannie Atkins
Poetry
For ages 13 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1-4814-5905-1
The American Civil War is raging and there is a lot of uncertainty and change in the air. Thanks to all the discussion about race, and through the efforts of abolitionists, a few people of color are now being offered the opportunity to get a higher education. One of these people is Edmonia, a half African-America half Ojibwe girl. She is a student at Oberlin College in Ohio where both people of color and women are being accepted as students.
   The theory is that Edmonia is supposed to be just another student, but this is not really how it is. In reality she has to very careful to behave in an exemplary manner and not do anything to draw attention to herself. Edmonia’s roommate Ruth is very hard working and conscientious and warns Edmonia not to associate with some white girls that Edmonia thinks are her friends.
   It turns out that Ruth’s warnings are justified. One night the girls add a little something to their mulled cider and get very sick. Edmonia, because she was there and served the girls their drinks, is blamed for what happened, and is even accused of trying to poison the girls. Before she can really grasp what is happening to her, Edmonia is told she cannot leave her dorm and cannot attend classes until her case comes up before the judge.
   Though she is not supposed to go outside, Edmonia does so any way, needing the solace of nature to help her feel grounded and connected to who she is. While she is out she is assaulted by a group of men and comes back to the room she shares with Ruth bleeding and shocked. The girls decide not to tell anyone about what happened. It would not do to give the people who are out to get Edmonia more ammunition to use against her.
   In the end the case against Edmonia is dismissed due to insufficient evidence. That should be the end of the whole business but it isn’t. The clouds that hung over Edmonia in the days leading up to the trial still seem to be there. Then Edmonia is accused of stealing some paints and though she is told “Not a single trustee believes you are a thief,” she is also told that it would be better if she didn’t come back next semester.
   There is no doubt that losing her place at Oberlin college is a huge blow to Edmonia, but it turns out that her change in fortune ends up being a good thing in the long run because it gives her the opportunity to work with an artist, which then leads to her becoming a sculptor.
   We know very little about Edmonia Lewis’ life story and so the author of this book chose to create a novel in verse so that she could fill the gaps in history with scenes and people born in her imagination. The format suits her purpose beautifully, and she captures Edmonia’s personality, and her reactions to the events that impact her, in a powerful and memorable way.     

Image result for edmonia lewis
Hiawatha's Marriage by Edmonia Lewis 

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