Cover image for The homeplace : poems
The homeplace : poems
Nelson, Marilyn, 1946-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
54 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3573.A4795 H6 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Through a variety of traditional and free verse forms, Waniek's (English, U. of Conn. at Storrs) third poetry collection sketches the lives descended from her great-great-grandmother, the slave Diverne. The second section honors Waniek's father and his "extended family"--the group of black WWII aviators known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Paper edition (unseen), $7.95. Annotation(c) 2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (


Finalist for the 1991 National Book Award

In The Homeplace, the stories of a family become the history of a people as Marilyn Nelson Waniek sketches the lives descended from her great-great-grandmother Diverne.

The poet's mother, Johnnie Mitchell Nelson, inspired this volume when she bequeathed to Waniek from her deathbed the tales that had shaped her life. The first section of the book presents those stories transformed into graceful, humorous, and deeply touching poems.

In the book's second section Waniek honors her late father, Melvin Nelson, and tells the story of his "family": the fabled group of black World War II aviators known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Using the language and perspective of her father and his comrades, Waniek explores through a few of their individual stories the hardships and achievements of the thousand black flyers trained at Tuskegee Institute.

Throughout The Homeplace, the reader is involved in a series of sharply portrayed lives. By telling a continuous story in a mix of free verse and traditional forms, Waniek gives her work pace and intensity. She handles the villanelle, the sonnet, and the popular ballad with equal skill and gusto.

"I just knew we were going to live some history," Johnnie Nelson said at the end of her life. Her daughter has produced an eloquent homage to that history, celebrating the survival of Afro-American pride.

Author Notes

Marilyn Nelson Waniek is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and former Poet Laureate of the State of Connecticut. She is the author of eight books of poetry, including For the Body, Mama's Promises, and The Fields of Praise, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Poet's Prize.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It is hard to claim despised and disputed parts of our heritage. If white, it's hard to come to terms with ancestral guilt; if black, hard to claim the white blood of slave owners. In this brave and passionate book, Waniek brings to life her great-great-grandmother Diverne, who bore her white master a son. "It wasn't rape," Waniek tells us, "in spite of her raw terror. And his whip." But neither was it love, exactly, for we have no easy name for such relations. Through the generations, Waniek traces Diverne's complex and powerful spirit in poem after powerful, complex poem. In the book's second half, she brings to life another part of black history often slighted: the tales of men who, like her father, fought in the black battalions. The voices of these men come through as clearly as those of the female relatives of the first part. A splendid collection. ~--Pat Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this quietly provocative and poignant collection of poems, Waniek ( Mama's Promises ) records the history of her family, beginning with her great-great-grandmother's experiences as a slave in the South, through her father's years as one of the Tuskegee Airmen, the celebrated group of black aviators who fought during World War II. Many of these works are based on stories the poet's mother passed on to her before her death, and Waniek retains the immediacy of this oral legacy through a skillful interweaving of dialect, quotations and first-person narration, and through her matter-of-fact, unadorned speech: ``Being black in America / was the Original Catch, / so no one was surprised / by 22: / The segregated airstrips, / separate camps. / They did the jobs / they'd been trained to do.'' In consistently moving narratives and adeptly crafted sonnets (Waniek's attempts at the villanelle and ballad are less impressive), the poet charts her family's survival in the face of oppression and racial injustice through carefully selected details and an evenhanded tone that avoids emotionalism and elevates personal history to universal experience. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-- A slim yet compelling collection of poetry that celebrates several generations of a Southern black family with rich and vivid portraits. Great-Uncle Rufus was born a slave, conceived by rape, but raised by his mother with enough love and faith to imbue courage and pride in his own five children. Aunt Geneva dared to love a white man well into her eighties. Waniek's father, an Air Force navigator, and her ``uncles,'' the famed Tuskegee Airmen, inspired the poet to look to the sky and ask ``. . . how shall I live and work to match your goodness?'' This is a worthy addition to any poetry collection, but it's of particular importance with the recent interest in the airmen and the contribution of blacks in the U. S. military. An excellent work for curriculum use in integrating history and literature.-- Jackie Gropman, Richard Byrd Library, Springfield, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.