cover image Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life

Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life

Marilyn Nelson. Little, Brown/Ottaviano, $18.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-316-29802-5

In a rich biography in verse, Nelson (A Is for Oboe) gives voice to the Black sculptor Augusta Savage (1892–1962), a key Harlem Renaissance figure. Written primarily in the first person, moving poems convey Savage’s artistic “hunger/ to pull something out of yourself” while tracing her Florida childhood as the seventh of 14 children (“beaten for making art”), her three marriages, her endeavors to make a living as an artist in New York and Europe, and her final quiet years in a Catskills town. Graceful descriptions of sculptures such as Gamin—“looks with a bemused, level/ gaze/ at the ridiculous/ and cruel stupidity/ this world abounds in/ his lips half curved, knowingly”—pay homage to her work, while concrete poems, including “The Figure of a Frog,” describe art as representation (“A figure of a frog is not a frog”). The appearance of several Black historical figures ground the poems in their era; photographs of Savage’s sculptures serve as a useful introduction to the artist’s art and legacy. Back matter includes a straightforward biographical afterword by Tammi Lawson, curator of the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)