Tag Archives: Marilyn Nelson

Race, family and identity

21 Apr

I had only a vague idea about American Ace when I picked it up.


I knew Marilyn Nelson’s book was a novel in verse about a boy, Connor Bianchi, whose paternal grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman. What I learned as I read was that it was a complex story about an Italian-American boy who discovers that his grandfather was not the Italian immigrant everyone believed, but a Tuskegee Airman, stationed in Italy at the end of WWII.

Reading each poem, we see how various family members react as they find out that their family isn’t quite what they all believed it to be. Some, like Connor, embrace the revelation. Others react negatively believing that “bad news should be told privately”. Their reactions reflect attitudes about race in America.

Nelson includes an afterword in which she explains that she wanted to write about the Airmen from the perspective of someone new to their story. Since most African-Americans knew the story of the Airmen, she created Connor.

Goodreads Summary: Connor’s grandmother leaves his dad a letter when she dies, and the letter’s confession shakes their tight-knit Italian-American family: The man who raised Dad is not his birth father.

But the only clues to this birth father’s identity are a class ring and a pair of pilot’s wings. And so Connor takes it upon himself to investigate—a pursuit that becomes even more pressing when Dad is hospitalized after a stroke. What Connor discovers will lead him and his father to a new, richer understanding of race, identity, and each other.


How I discovered Marilyn Nelson

16 Apr

Until today, I didn’t know Marilyn Nelson existed. I’ve read her books, Carver: A Life in Poems and  The Sweethearts of Rhythm. Oh, and Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color that she wrote with Elizabeth Alexander.

But I didn’t really think about her.

Until today, when I read How I Discovered Poetry.


This is a semi-autobiographical account of her life, growing up in the 50’s, moving around the country with her family, as her father, one of few black Air Force officers, was transferred. Things struck me about her life, particularly how often they moved, and how she was treated in different places because of the color of her skin.

But the words moved me. Each poem is an unrhymed sonnet that sheds some light on the narrator and a new discovery she makes about the world. This is a lovely collection of poems. It has me thinking about ways I can capture aspects of my life in unrhymed sonnets.


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