Vermont Reads 2017

Brown Girl Dreaming

Related Poetry and Memoir Resources

There are a number of high quality memoirs and poetry that can be used to complement Brown Girl Dreaming. We have selected a few to serve as inspiration and we welcome your recommendations of others.

Other African American Memoirs:

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) by Frederick Douglass, is an influential—and very readable—memoir and treatise on abolition written by the famous orator and escaped slave.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969), an autobiography about the early years of American writer and poet Maya Angelou.

Black Boy, by Richard Wright (1945), a memoir of Richard Wright’s childhood and young adulthood. It is split into two sections; the first covers his early childhood in the American South, and the second explores his early adult years in Chicago.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (2010), is the story of two young Baltimore boys that share the same name and a similar history, but who traveled down very different paths. Both grew up fatherless with troubled pasts, but one—the author—became a Rhodes Scholar and leader, while the other was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence.

Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith (2015). This memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith explores her coming-of-age and her finding her voice as a writer against a complex backdrop of race and faith.

A Beautiful Struggle A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2008), chronicles Coates’ childhood in Baltimore with his Vietnam veteran and Black Panther father during the heyday of hip-hop and the height of the War on Drugs.

Other Memoirs in Verse for Young Readers:

“Classroom Connections: Memoirs in Verse,” by  Sylvia M. Vardell, April 2015. This essay describes and celebrates the rise of memoirs in verse for young readers in recent years and provides an extensive list of titles, along with ideas for classroom connections.

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle (2015). Living in Los Angeles, Margarita dreams of her summer visits to Cuba, her mother’s home country. When hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts with the Bay of Pigs invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide.

How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson (2014). A Civil Rights-era memoir from one of America’s celebrated poets. Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty poems.

Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution by Chun Yu (2015), a lyrical memoir that recalls the Chinese Cultural Revolution from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl.

Other Books Written in Free Verse:

Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2014).  This novel in verse follows African American twin brothers who share a love for basketball but find themselves drifting apart as they head into junior high school. It was the winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award Honor.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai (2013). This novel written in verse tells the story of a young Vietnamese refugee and her family who are forced to flee Saigon during the Vietnam War and who settled in Alabama. It won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle (2013). In this historical novel in verse, Engle evokes the voice of the Cuban feminist and abolitionist Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1997). Set in Oklahoma during the years 1934–1935, this Newbery Medal-winning novel tells the story of a family of farmers during the Dust Bowl years.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (2013), a novel in free verse inspired by the difficult experiences McCall’s close-knit Mexican American family went through during her teen years.

Witness by Karen Hesse (2001). This novel in free verse tells the story of the Ku Klux Klan in Vermont in 1924; it was, in 2003, the Council’s first Vermont Reads selection. Told through the impassioned first-person narration of 11 characters, Witness appeals to a wide range of readers: young and old, culturally and ethnically diverse, and those interested in history and its effects on today’s social issues.


Langston Hughes and his poetry are strong influences in Brown Girl Dreaming. In addition, Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” is paraphrased in the “Birch Tree Poem” (p 223) and used as an example of how a good poem can transport one to a new place and new experience.

When asked about influential poets in this interview, Woodson said, “There’ve been so many since my first encounter with Langston Hughes — Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni was HUGE for me, Countee Cullen’s INCIDENT, was a poem that haunted me and made me think about living as an African American in the United States.  So many poets influenced me both politically and artistically.”

Selected Poetry Resources:

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, selected and with and introduction by Billy Collins (2003). This is a poem-a-day anthology created by Billy Collins to make poetry less daunting, an assembly of “clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically ‘get’ on first hearing—poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.” This collection was the Council’s Vermont Reads selection in 2013. VHC has a lending set of this book available through our Reading and Discussion program.

The Poetry Foundation – An independent literary organization committed to poetry’s vigorous presence in American culture. The website includes an extensive collection of poetry, and biographies and essays by and about poets (including Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and all of the other poets Woodson mentions above).

Poetry Out Loud – National Endowment for the Arts’ and the Poetry Foundation’s site for Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation.