The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family

Overview

Words and images come together in this inspiring collaboration between renowned poet Ntozake Shange and Kamoinge Inc., a group of acclaimed photographers whose work documents and celebrates the African-American experience.

Collaborations between writers and photographers have provided African Americans with important focus for issues of identity and representation — or lack thereof — ever since the first publication of The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Langston Hughes and Roy ...

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2004 Hardcover New This book is new. Poem follows photo in this collection of 135 b&ws taken by the Kamoinge Workshop, a group of African-American photographers founded in ... 1963. Ostensibly of the African-American family, the photos are not necessarily constrained to what one typically thinks of as "family shots"; rather, they show women, men and children both together and separately, as much outside as inside, as much in large social groups as with "nuclear" families. The effect of this is to expand the definition of "family" to include "location"--the street furniture of sidewalks, stoops and cars becomes as essential to human interaction as dinner plates and birthday cakes. The poems, by playwright and poet Shange, are most often literal interpretations of the images, tracing facial expressions and body postures in text. Read more Show Less

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New York, NY 2004 Hard cover First Printing, based on Printers key, stated first edition. New in new dust jacket. First edition. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 175 p. ... Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Poem follows photo in this collection of 135 b&ws taken by the Kamoinge Workshop, a group of African-American photographers founded in 1963. Ostensibly of the African-American family, the photos are not necessarily constrained to what one typically thinks of as "family shots"; rather, they show women, men and children both together and separately, as much outside as inside, as much in large social groups as with "nuclear" families. The effect of this is to expand the definition of "family. Read more Show Less

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2004 Hard cover First edition. Illustrated. New in new dust jacket. Remainder mark on bottom edge. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 192 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: ... General/trade. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Words and images come together in this inspiring collaboration between renowned poet Ntozake Shange and Kamoinge Inc., a group of acclaimed photographers whose work documents and celebrates the African-American experience.

Collaborations between writers and photographers have provided African Americans with important focus for issues of identity and representation — or lack thereof — ever since the first publication of The Sweet Flypaper of Life by Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava in 1955. Frank Stewart, with his fellow photographers in Kamoinge Inc., and Ntozake Shange — a longtime fan of photography — were inspired by this landmark work and committed themselves to continuing the tradition and the artistic conversation into this first decade of this new millennium.

In 1963, Roy DeCarava — renowned photographer and first president of the Kamoinge Workshop — set the aesthetic and philosophical tone of the group in response to biased representations of African Americans in the media. As image-makers, the Kamoinge members have sought to shed positive light on their subjects, and to demystify Black life in America. With stunning images from such acclaimed photographers as Anthony Barboza, Adger W. Cowans, Ming Smith Murray, andpoems by Ntozake Shange, one of the most accomplished writers of her time, The Sweet Breath of Life is a rich and thought-provoking book, destined to become a classic work of American photography and literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Ntozake means "she who comes with her own things". Shange means "who walks like a lion." In The Sweet Breath of Life, poet Ntozake Shange demonstrates the aptness of her name. The author of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide delivers a soulful poetic meditation on the pain and beauty of African-American family life.
Publishers Weekly
Poem follows photo in this 7" x 8-5/16" collection of 135 b&ws taken by the Kamoinge Workshop, a group of African-American photographers founded in 1963. Ostensibly of the African-American family, the photos are not necessarily constrained to what one typically thinks of as "family shots"; rather, they show women, men and children both together and separately, as much outside as inside, as much in large social groups as with "nuclear" families. The effect of this is to expand the definition of "family" to include "location" the street furniture of sidewalks, stoops and cars becomes as essential to human interaction as dinner plates and birthday cakes. The poems, by playwright and poet Shange (for colored girls who have considered suicide...), are most often literal interpretations of the images, tracing facial expressions and body postures in text. While Shange's gritty, contracted style complements the unadorned and intimate images, at times a less narrative explication of the images would have allowed a little breathing space between mediums the close interrelation is sometimes claustrophobic, with a "story" pre-empting independent appreciation. It's certainly easy to understand the urge to overexplain one's family, but in these cases, the power and humanity of the images are self-explanatory. (On sale Oct. 19) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A collaboration between award-winning writer Shange and the Kamoinge Workshop, a New York-based African American photographers' cooperative, this collection of 25 poems and 134 photographs pays homage to Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava's The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Depicting mainly outdoor scenes, the photographs capture the vitality, spirit, and tenacity of urban African American life. In her use of dialect and subject matter, Shange follows Hughes's path, but sometimes her poems follow the action in the photos too literally. But in the highly effective "Lord I'm Blossomin," poem and image meld perfectly. On a city roof, a naked, pregnant woman cups her hands over her face as she refreshes herself in a downpour. Shange writes "my pum'kin & my chile/ look at the puddles that i skip thru/ the/ gleaming water on our skin." Poverty, politics, music, religion, and especially family fill these poems and photographs with vibrant life. Recommended for larger collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/04.] Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Religion Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743478977
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 10/26/2004
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 7.38 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Ntozake Shange

Frank Stewart is senior staff photographer for Jazz at Lincoln Center. The award-winning photographer has contributed to Sweet Swing Blues: On the Road a Year with Wynton Marsalis and His Septet.

Ntozake Shange, poet, novelist, playwright, and performer, wrote the Broadway-produced and Obie Award-winning For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. She has also written numerous works of fiction, including Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo, Betsy Brown, and Liliane.

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