Monday, January 22, 2007
The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
Engle, Margarita. 2006. THE POET SLAVE OF CUBA: A BIOGRAPHY OF JUAN FRANCISCO MANZANO. Ill. by Sean Qualls. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805077065 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]
Born into slavery in eighteenth-century Cuba, Juan Francisco Manzano was deprived of education, removed from his biological mother at a young age, and forced to be the “son” of an eccentric owner. Incredibly, he learned to write and recite poetry that reflected the hardships of his existence, and the beauty he squeezed from it. He became known as one of Cuba’s most beloved poets.
Engle tells the true story of Juan in verse, through the voices of the people that surrounded him. Maria del Pilar, his true mother, speaks of her brokenness when he is traded to her owner. Toribio, the father , expresses his disconnect with a son who is pampered in grand fashion by the “godmother.” Dona Beatriz weirdly believes that Juan is meant to be her son. Qualls’ gray, almost gothic, illustrations portray the somber mood throughout most of the book. That one could rise from such a dismal life to be remembered more than three hundred years later is nearly inconceivable and totally absorbing to readers.
When teens think of slavery, they tend to think of African slaves brought to America. Research other parts of the world where slavery existed or still exists. Find out more about Manzano and his poetry. Analyze his poetry for reflections of his childhood.
Translated works by Manzano:
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SLAVE. ISBN 0814325378
LIFE AND POEMS OF A CUBAN SLAVE. ISBN 0208019006
Books about slavery:
Jones, Constance. AFRICA: 1500-1900. ISBN 0816027749
Stanley, Jerry. DIGGER: THE TRAGIC FATE OF THE CALIFORNIA INDIANS FOM THE MISSIONS TO THE GOLDRUSH. ISBN 0517709511
By Rebecca McKee