Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays & Conversations (BOOK REVIEW)

Virginia Hamilton:

Speeches, Essays & Conversations

Edited by Arnold Adoff & Kacy Cook

Blue Sky Press

Hardcover, $29.99

368 pages

ISBN: 978-0-439-27193-6




Book Review by Kam Williams


“In the 35 years between the publication of her first book and her death in 2002, Virginia Hamilton earned a place of honor in the pantheon of children’s literature… Hamilton’s books were about illuminating black experience in America, the journey of black people across what she called the American hopescape. She stated, more than once, that she saw her work as helping to portray ‘the essence of a people who are a parallel culture community of America,’ while at the same time revealing the universality among peoples.

This collection of Hamilton’s essays, speeches and conversations is significant because it sheds light on the genius behind her profoundly important body of work. These pieces show Hamilton as a serious scholar of history and folktales and make clear the importance of place, time, family, and history to her and to her work… For those of us who knew and admired her, this collection offers the chance to ‘hear’ her voice again and be reminded once more of the enormity of her talent and the richness of her legacy.”

-Excerpted from the Introduction by Rudine Sims Bishop (pgs. 11-12)


Over the course of her illustrious career, Virginia Hamilton earned every major honor for which her children’s books were eligible: including the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, the NAACP Image Award, the Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Coretta Scott King Award, to name a few. Among her many masterpieces were works like “The People Could Fly,“ a collection of two dozen, magically-illustrated folktales relied upon by blacks to cope during slavery.

                But because Hamilton’s work was aimed at kids, her readers never got much of an idea about what motivated her to create such a bounty of inspired literary treasures. Fortunately, Arnold Adoff, with the help of fellow editor Kacy Cook, culled through his late wife’s papers, and the upshot of their efforts is Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays & Conversations, a veritable, posthumous memoir which offers a compelling peek into how the innovative author’s mind worked.

For instance, she shares that “The People Could Fly was one of those thoroughly pleasurable projects that one comes upon occasionally... It didn’t feel like work; it felt like an exploration of my own heart and being.” Overall, the collection paints a rich portrait of a literary icon revealing her to be a brilliant, opinionated and, fiercely-independent soul whose legacy and innovative approach to storytelling deserves to be the subject of study not merely by African-Americans but by English scholars of all hues for generations to come.

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