Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What is Jeannine Atkins reading?

Featured at Writers Read: Jeannine Atkins, author of Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis.

Her entry begins:
You’d think finishing a novel based on the life of Edmonia Lewis would mean I could let her go, but even while my writing days are now spent with another woman, I’m still preoccupied with the ways that the nineteenth century sculptor’s biracial background shaped her life.

Some of these tensions are beautifully expressed in The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. The novel works around an incident of a mother and her children falling from the roof of an apartment building, and the resulting deaths, a girl saved, and the mystery of how those falls came to be. Birds are always in the picture, too, and the ways memories mimic flight – veering, falling, rising again. We try to learn what “really” happened along with the young narrator, who misses her mother, a white woman from Denmark, and her father, an African American in the military, though we comes to believe that...[read on]
About Stone Mirrors, from the publisher:
From critically acclaimed author Jeannine Atkins comes a gorgeous, haunting biographical novel in verse about a half Native American, half African American sculptor working in the years following the Civil War.

A sculptor of historical figures starts with givens but creates her own vision. Edmonia Lewis was just such a sculptor, but she never spoke or wrote much about her past, and the stories that have come down through time are often vague or contradictory. Some facts are known: Edmonia was the daughter of an Ojibwe woman and an African-Haitian man. She had the rare opportunity to study art at Oberlin, one of the first schools to admit women and people of color, but lost her place after being accused of poisoning and theft, despite being acquitted of both. She moved to Boston and eventually Italy, where she became a successful sculptor.

But the historical record is very thin. The open questions about Edmonia’s life seem ideally suited to verse, a form that is comfortable with mysteries. Inspired by both the facts and the gaps in history, author Jeannine Atkins imagines her way into a vision of what might have been.
Visit Jeannine Atkins's website.

Writers Read: Jeannine Atkins.

--Marshal Zeringue