M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A

M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A

5.0 2
by A. Van Jordan
     
 
A true story lies behind this haunting collection. In 1936, MacNolia Cox won the Akron District Spelling Bee, and at the age of thirteen she became the first African American to reach the final round of the national competition. The Southern judges, it is thought, kept her from winning by presenting a word not on the official list. The word that tripped MacNolia,

Overview

A true story lies behind this haunting collection. In 1936, MacNolia Cox won the Akron District Spelling Bee, and at the age of thirteen she became the first African American to reach the final round of the national competition. The Southern judges, it is thought, kept her from winning by presenting a word not on the official list. The word that tripped MacNolia, ironically, was nemesis. Though she had been an A student and had dreams of being a doctor, MacNolia left school, married, and worked as a domestic in the home of a physician -- "They say she / Spelled like a demon ... / She's the best damn maid in town." Cinematic throughout, with the sounds of blues and jazz in the background, the collection opens with MacNolia's actual obituary. Persona poems then delineate a marriage and explore the worlds of love, work, and music. M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A is a poignant commentary on one life and on the social and racial attitudes of the Depression thirties.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The first African-American student to reach the final round of the National Spelling Bee, 13-year-old MacNolia Cox of Akron, Ohio, found short-lived celebrity in 1936; when she died 40 years later, the girl who "was almost/ The national spelling champ" had become a cleaning woman, a grandmother, and "the best damn maid in town." Cox's ambition and her later frustration find incisive shape in this remarkably varied meditation on ambition, racism, discouragement and ennui, where successive pages can bring to mind a handbook of poetic forms (a double sestina, Japanese-inspired syllabics, a blues ghazal and prose poems based on definitions of prepositions), Ann Carson's "TV Men" poems, Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah and the documentary film Spellbound. Jordan (Rise) begins in Cox's later life, giving voice to her husband, John Montiere, at "The Moment Before He Asks MacNolia Out on a Date," then to MacNolia herself when in 1970 her son dies just after his return from Vietnam. As counterpoints, Jordan intersperses poems about African-Americans who won more lasting public acclaim, among them Richard Pryor, Josephine Baker and the great labor organizer and orator A. Philip Randolph. Jordan's most quotable poems, however, return to the voice of the 13-year-old speller, who "learned the word chiaroscuro/ By rolling it on my tongue// Like cotton candy the color/ Of day and night." (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Men/ don't need no big words to beg," Jordan (Rise) concludes one of the shortest but most powerful poems in his second collection. He's writing in the voice of MacNolia Cox, a 13-year-old Negro who won the Ohio spelling bee in 1936 and went on to compete nationally. Suddenly faced with the realization that no little girl her color will ever win, she still can't prove they cheated when "They pulled a word not on the list,/ the goddess of vengeance: Nemesis-N-e-m-e-s-i-s-I couldn't spell it, then." Prefaced by her obituary, the book picks up her life from when she first met her husband. We see the lovers, then move quickly to the broken woman cleaning houses, the broken man who can't find work. There are cameo appearances by Jesse Owens, Fats Waller, Richard Pryor, Josephine Baker, and Bojangles and quotes or mock-quotes from arts reviews and newspaper articles of the time. Multivoiced and multifaceted, the poems and prose here play on the book's premise, spelling out words and giving definitions. Unfortunately, the other voices aren't as powerful as MacNolia's and serve more as cogs to move the narrative along. Still, this book captures an important figure who has been too long obscure, and at its best the poems are both memorable and haunting.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393059076
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
05/19/2004
Pages:
134
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.66(d)

Meet the Author

A. Van Jordan is the author of Rise, published by Tia Chucha Press, 2001, which won the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award and selected for the Book of the Month Club from the Academy of American Poets. His second book, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, published by W.W. Norton & Co, 2004, was awarded an Anisfield-Wolf Award and listed as one the Best Books of 2005 by The London Times (TLS). Jordan was also awarded a Whiting Writers Award in 2005 and a Pushcart Prize in 2006, 30th Edition. Quantum Lyrics was published July 2007 by W.W. Norton & Co. He is a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, 2007, and a United States Artists Williams Fellowship, 2008. He is a Professor in the Dept. of English at the University of Michigan.

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