The Freedom Business

Overview

The true narrative of a slave from Africa, crafted in verse by Marilyn Nelson. Born an African prince, Broteer Furro was captured by slave traders at age six. As he stepped onto a cargo ship, the vessel's steward purchased the boy and gave him a new name: Venture. He landed in Rhode Island and worked through a lifetime of slavery to buy not only his own freedom but the freedom of his wife and children. Remarkable in his own time for his ambition and physical stature, Venture Smith became history's first man to ...

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Overview

The true narrative of a slave from Africa, crafted in verse by Marilyn Nelson. Born an African prince, Broteer Furro was captured by slave traders at age six. As he stepped onto a cargo ship, the vessel's steward purchased the boy and gave him a new name: Venture. He landed in Rhode Island and worked through a lifetime of slavery to buy not only his own freedom but the freedom of his wife and children. Remarkable in his own time for his ambition and physical stature, Venture Smith became history's first man to document both his capture from Africa and life as an American slave. In this breathtaking volume, Marilyn Nelson's poems sit opposite the text of Smith's own narrative. Nelson's controlled verse layers this edition with insight into Smith's stoic eighteenth-century prose. Deborah Dancy's stark watercolor collages highlight the tension between the economical language of the narrative and the turbulent emotion within the poems.

Aubade (1768)
Started out early, following last night's track.
A moon sliver lingered over the moon blue snow.
I left my lady laying on her back trumpeting the most beautiful music I know.
Can't take her home with me, where she belongs,
to warm my room with her smile, my pillow with her cheek.
She and our children: owned. (God must bear wrongs like a strong black man pretending to be meek.)
Like me, my Meg was kidnapped as a child and raised in a white home, the only slave.
… —FROM THE BOOK

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Phyllis J. Perry
Venture Smith, named by his father Broteer Furro, was the son of a prince, born in what is now Ghana sometime in the 1820s. When the boy was eight years old, he was captured by slave traders, given a new name, and sold to work as a steward on a Rhode Island slave ship. Venture's written narrative of his life as a slave in New England is the earliest known document of its kind. It tells how he worked through three decades of slavery before he was able eventually to buy his freedom and that of his wife and children. Throughout the book, pages of his prose narrative are placed side by side with original poems written by award winning poet Marilyn Nelson. Her previous works have received acclaim, including a Newbery Honor Award. She was a National Book Award finalist and a wrote a Coretta Scott King Honor book. The Freedom Business is illustrated with watercolor collages by Deborah Dancy. Reviewer: Phyllis J. Perry
School Library Journal

Gr 6 Up

Poems in various forms parallel the reproduced text of A Narrative of the Life & Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa , published in 1798. Nelson's depictions and interpretations of scenes from Venture's account bring a musical, emotional, and inquisitive context to the true story of an enslaved African who eventually bought freedom for himself and his family. Similar in format to Fortune's Bones (2004) and Carver (2001, both Front St), the volume features poems on the right-hand pages, facing the ongoing narrative on the left (amazingly, the two keep pace). Text floats over abstract earth-toned art that lends qualities of light and texture to match the tone of each selection. The poems have both the sense of natural speech and of oratory, giving rhythmic majesty to intensely detailed physical and emotional landscapes. They are dense but rich, and encourage readers to approach the 18th-century narrative (which may seem oddly narrow-minded or stilted to today's youngsters) in a variety of ways. Respectful of both her audience and her subject, Nelson adds to her unique body of work connecting youngsters to history through a combination of primary-source material and verse.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews

An astonishing, heartbreaking cycle of poems is set in counterpoint against the slave narrative that inspired them. Venture Smith, born Broteer Furro in Guinea, was captured and enslaved at the age of six and brought to America in 1738. Moving from one master to another, he eventually bought his own freedom, that of his wife and children and a handful of other enslaved men, becoming a prosperous Connecticut landowner in the process. His narrative, published in 1798, appears continuously on the left-hand page of each spread; Nelson's luminous poems appear on the right. Both are thrown into relief by Dancy's mixed-media artwork, which includes images of birds, ropes, chains and blood to heighten the visceral emotions of both texts. Nelson writes in Venture's voice: "Breath, dreams, pulse, traded for cloth and alcohol, / were capital. There was profit in the pain, / the chains. Venture. There were whole worlds to gain." Painfully, readers see how commerce governed Venture's life even after he was "freed," struggling always for his humanity against the spiritual chains put in place by the twisted economy that shaped him. Tragic, important, breathtaking. (author's, artist's notes) (Poetry. 13 & up)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781932425574
  • Publisher: Front Street, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/1/2008
  • Pages: 72
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: 1200L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Marilyn Nelson is the author of The Freedom Business, Fortune's Bones, and Carver: A Life in Poems, among other titles. She is a National Book Award finalist, a Newbery Honor Book winner, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book award winner. She lives in East Haddam, Connecticut.

Deborah Muirhead received a BFA degree, an MS degree in printmaking, and an MFA in painting. She has exhibited throughout the country, and her numerous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is on the faculty of the University of Connecticut. Ms. Dancy resides in Storrs, Connecticut.

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