I Heard God Talking to Me: William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings

Elizabeth Spires, Author . FSG/Foster $17.95 (56p) ISBN 978-0-374-33528-1

Of interest to adults as well as children, this handsomely produced black-and-white book intriguingly combines photography, sculpture and poetry. The illiterate child of freed slaves, William Edmondson (1874–1951) experienced religious visions from the age of 13 or 14. At 57, hearing a voice “telling me/ to pick up my tools/ and start to work on a tombstone,” he began carving limestone; he became, in 1937, the first African-American to have a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Four of Spires’s (The Mouse of Amherst ) poems are taken verbatim from interviews with the artist, but elsewhere the poet mimics Edmondson’s homespun language to remarkable effect, and creates narrative voices for Edmondson’s sculpted characters, photos of which are shown facing the poems. The subjects include an “Angel with a Pocketbook,” Eleanor Roosevelt and a rabbit who explains how Edmondson “thunked me with his hammer./...He reached in with his fingers,/ ... and drew me right out/ of that chunk of limestone!” The immediacy in Spires’s poems will speak to young readers, although the appeal of Edmondson’s weighty, primitive figures may be more apparent to adults. Portraits of Edmondson by luminaries Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Edward Weston make a lingering impression. All ages. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/01/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
Genre: Children's
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