i live in music by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Romare Bearden

This book pairs the poetry of Ntozake Shange, an acclaimed African-American playwright and poet, with the collages of African-American artist Romare Bearden, in an ode to music. I am abashed to say that I knew almost nothing about Ms. Shange until I wikied her mere moments ago. But I did know Romare Bearden before I picked up the book, through pieces seen in various galleries. I bought this book at a second-hand store for less money than it must possibly be worth. Every page is a Bearden collage in splendiferous colour (what book is that word from?). I’m sure that any book sold in a gallery with his paintings in it would be three times the cost, and they wouldn’t include Shange’s poem.

I like Bearden (and I am not a lover of modern art), so already, the book is a steal. But it was Shange’s poem that grabbed me by the gut and had me digging in my lint-lined pockets for the money to buy this book. I was a music-geek from grade 1 all the way to university – my sisters and I spent one month out of two at music day-camp and, if we were lucky and my parents had the cash, two weeks a summer at sleepover camp. We played music every day from right after breakfast until just before dinner, with “small group practice” in between orchestra and band, and we never got bored. Then I went to university, ran out of money and skill, and one day found myself in a bookstore reading this book and remembering, and asking myself: how did she know what it’s like to live in music? How did she get it down so right?

Shange uses unconventional spelling in her poem – it gets across the way the poem should sound. So you could ask – should children be told that it is okay to spell poorly if you are a published poet? Is this the kind of message we should be sending to the post-MSN/fb/twitter/txt generation? (I can only imagine how their spelling will be – although maybe there will be a backlash and by the time the infants of the 2010s are in their teens, spelling bees and thesauruses will be cool. One can only hope). Where was I? Oh yes – I say “yes”. There is no time like the present to show children that art doesn’t have boundaries (even if spelling does).

This book is a must-have for music-lovers and art-lovers…and their parents will love it, too. When you close the book you feel like dancing and playing a tune, you feel like creating something meaningful and beautiful. And what is better than a book full of inspiration?

Additional notes: For people, like me, who are a part of a “visible minority” group, any book about people of colour is a big plus. So I thought I would note that the colour tones in this book are mostly blues, browns, yellows, blacks, reds, greens. There is very little pink, eggshell, or ecru.

Reading Age: Pre-school to 99.

Favourite Line:

i got 15 trumpets where other women got hips/ & a upright bass for both sides of my heart

Rating: a solid A.


2 thoughts on “i live in music by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Romare Bearden

  1. I found your post while searching the web for a replacement copy of this book. It’s a perfect marriage, a match made deep in the roots of the ancestors. I miss reading mine – I wish I knew where it went.

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