writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by today’s most orig­i­nal,
female, African-Amer­i­can artists
Blooms­bury Chil­dren’s Books, 2021

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Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

About the Book

For cen­turies, accom­plished women — of all races — have fall­en out of the his­tor­i­cal records. The same is true for gift­ed, pro­lif­ic, women poets of the Harlem Renais­sance who are lit­tle known, espe­cial­ly as com­pared to their male counterparts.

In this poet­ry col­lec­tion, best­selling author Nik­ki Grimes uses “The Gold­en Shov­el” poet­ic method to cre­ate whol­ly orig­i­nal poems based on the works of these ground­break­ing women-and to intro­duce read­ers to their work.

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most excit­ing female African-Amer­i­can illus­tra­tors, includ­ing: Vanes­sa Brant­ley-New­ton, Cozbi Cabr­era, Pat Cum­mings, Nina Crews, Lau­ra Free­man, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, April Har­ri­son, Ekua Holmes, Keisha Mor­ri­son, Daria Peo­ples-Riley, Andrea Pip­pins, Shadra Strick­land, and Eliz­a­beth Zunon.

Lega­cy also includes a fore­word, an intro­duc­tion to the his­to­ry of the Harlem Renais­sance, author’s note, and poet biogra­phies, which make this a won­der­ful resource and a book to cherish.

Awards and Recognition

  • Bank Street Col­lege Best Chil­dren’s Books of 2022
  • Book­list starred review
  • Book­page Best Book of 2021
  • Books for a Glob­al Soci­ety 2021–2022
  • Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books starred review
  • CCBC Choic­es 2022
  • Chica­go Pub­lic Library Best Book
  • Indie Next! selection
  • King Coun­ty Library Sys­tem Best Book 2021
  • Kirkus Prize Finalist
  • Kirkus Reviews starred review
  • Mighty Girls Best Book of the Year 2021
  • NCTE Best Poet­ry Book 2022
  • New York Pub­lic Library Best Book
  • Pub­lish­ers Week­ly starred review
  • Rise, A Fem­i­nist Book Project for Ages 0–18
  • School Library Jour­nal Best Book of 2021
  • School Library Jour­nal starred review



  This col­lec­tion of gold­en shov­el poems, a form that takes a strik­ing line from one poem and uses it to cre­ate a new poem, builds on the work of women poets dur­ing the Harlem Renais­sance. As the title sug­gests, Grimes builds on the lega­cy of oft unsung voic­es, such as Alice Dun­bar-Nel­son, Mae V. Cow­dery, and Angeli­na Weld Grimké, in a three-part explo­ration of her­itage, the Earth, and vis­i­bil­i­ty. There is much to chew on here as read­ers take in each poem and con­tem­plate the rela­tion­ship between the orig­i­nals and Grimes’ own remark­able takes on each work. Adding more depth to this col­lec­tion, each poem is ampli­fied in its mes­sage with illus­tra­tions from artists such as Vashti Har­ri­son and Lau­ra Free­man. With a wide array of medi­ums from high­ly tex­tured col­lage work to dig­i­tal water­col­ors, the art here is uni­fied in its empha­sis on por­tray­ing the beau­ty and unique­ness of Black girls and women. Includ­ed at the end is a resources sec­tion that offers poet and artist biogra­phies to deep­en read­ers’ con­nec­tions with the works. Whether you read this col­lec­tion in full or in part or use it as a spring­board for your own shot at some gold­en shov­el poet­ry, this unique title is sure to spark thought and touch hearts. (Book­list, starred review)

  This sis­ter to the poet’s pre­vi­ous com­pi­la­tion One Last Word (BCCB 12/16) assem­bles nine­teen poems from Harlem Renais­sance writ­ers and inter­weaves them with Grimes’ respons­es, employ­ing the Gold­en Shov­el for­mat, where­in a select­ed phrase from the source poem becomes con­clud­ing line words in the new. The result is a com­pelling dia­logue with the past that ele­vates weak­er poems and show­cas­es strong ones, tak­ing read­ers beyond the more famil­iar Jessie Red­mon Fauset and Angeli­na Weld Grimké to less­er-known names. Jessie Red­mon Fauset’s pas­toral ‘Ron­deau’ is answered with Grimes’ ebul­lient city-girl tale in ‘Tara Takes on Mont­clair’; Esther Popel’s lac­er­at­ing ‘Flag Salute’ inspires Grimes’ plain­tive ‘A Mother’s Lament.’ Nine­teen artists pro­vide illus­tra­tions, rang­ing from sun­ny col­lage to styl­ized silkscreen-like images to flow­ing painter­ly inter­pre­ta­tions. This is ready-made for the lan­guage arts cur­ricu­lum, but the poet­ic and artis­tic play with source mate­r­i­al could inspire cre­ative young­sters on their own as well. A vibrant intro­duc­tion con­veys the breadth and inter­con­nect­ed­ness of the Harlem Renais­sance writ­ing and pub­lish­ing scene; a note explains the unusu­al poet­ic form; end mat­ter includes spir­it­ed and detailed biogra­phies of the poets (‘The world was not ready for Angeli­na Weld Grimké’), biogra­phies of the con­tribut­ing artists, sources for the poet­ry, and an index. (Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books, starred review)

  Grimes spot­lights the work of less­er-known Black women poets of the Harlem Renais­sance. The book begins with an expla­na­tion of the Harlem Renais­sance and Gold­en Shov­el poems. The col­lec­tion is divid­ed into three parts: ‘Her­itage,’ ‘Earth Moth­er,’ and ‘Tak­ing Notice.’ Gold­en Shov­el poet­ry uses ‘a short poem in its entire­ty, or a line from the poem, called a strik­ing line.’ The poem or strik­ing line is then used ‘to cre­ate a new poem using the words from the orig­i­nal.’ Most of Grimes’s poems incor­po­rate lines of text or the entire­ty of a short poem into each verse. The text of the fea­tured poet, which is used to cre­ate the new poem, is high­light­ed in bold type. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of Grimes’s poet­ry and the orig­i­nal works pro­vide a com­pelling reflec­tion on gen­der, race, pol­i­tics, and every­day life. Full-page, vibrant illus­tra­tions ren­dered by a vari­ety of artists are includ­ed through­out, such as a woman whose head is a vol­cano for Lucy Ariel Williams’s ‘Pre­lude’ and ‘Slow Burn’ by Grimes. Edu­ca­tors should note that the poem ‘Flag Salute’ by Esther Popel describes lynch­ing. Back mat­ter includes brief biogra­phies of the poets and artists, an index, and a list of sources. VERDICT A strik­ing col­lec­tion of voic­es, who exam­ine and cel­e­brate the expe­ri­ence of Black women from the past and present. An excel­lent intro­duc­tion to Black women writ­ers who were ignored by his­to­ry. (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

  In this expan­sive intro­duc­tion to Harlem Renais­sance women poets, Grimes uti­lizes the Gold­en Shov­el poet­ry tech­nique, which Ter­rance Hayes con­ceived in homage to Gwen­dolyn Brooks, where­in one takes ‘a short poem in its entire­ty, or a line from the poem… to cre­ate a new poem using the words from the orig­i­nal.’ The result is a thor­ough­ly con­tem­po­rary, com­pas­sion­ate col­lec­tion in three parts (‘Her­itage,’ ‘Earth Moth­er,’ and ‘Tak­ing Notice,’) that jux­ta­pos­es the work of poets—including Mae V. Cow­dery, Alice Dun­bar-Nel­son, and Esther Popel—with Grimes’s inno­v­a­tive fem­i­nist remix­es. Acclaimed Black women artists—such as Vanes­sa Brant­ley-New­ton, Cozbi Cabr­era, and Vashti Harrison—illustrate, mak­ing for an abun­dant­ly lay­ered land­scape of Black female expe­ri­ences. Front mat­ter includes a pref­ace and intro­duc­tions to the Harlem Renais­sance and the poet­ic form; back mat­ter includes an author’s note, poet biogra­phies, sources, and an index.” (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

  Grimes’ new col­lec­tion of poems weaves a con­tem­po­rary Black fem­i­nist impulse while recov­er­ing the under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed con­tri­bu­tions of Harlem Renais­sance women poets.

“Win­ner of both the Children’s Lit­er­a­ture Lega­cy Award and the ALAN Award, Grimes con­tin­ues to deliv­er dis­tinc­tive­ly sit­u­at­ed, heart-filled offer­ings that tie togeth­er gen­er­a­tions of Black artis­tic excel­lence aimed at incu­bat­ing pos­i­tive social change. Here her focus turns toward less-well-known women poets of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, women like Geor­gia Dou­glas John­son, Jessie Red­mon Fauset, Gwen­dolyn Ben­nett, Mae V. Cow­dery, Anne Spencer, Effie Lee New­some, Esther Popel, and Alice Dun­bar-Nel­son. To their poems includ­ed here, Grimes adds her own. These are done in the form of the Gold­en Shov­el, invent­ed by poet Ter­rance Hayes in homage to Gwen­dolyn Brooks, and they bril­liant­ly resam­ple the words of the women’s works. All, both col­lect­ed and Grimes’, decid­ed­ly emerge from the expe­ri­ences and world­views of Black women and girls. They empha­size an ethos of care for one­self, one’s com­mu­ni­ties, and the Earth togeth­er for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a brighter tomor­row. Accom­pa­ny­ing them are con­tri­bu­tions from an all-star cast of Black women illus­tra­tors, empow­er­ing art­works that could be at home in a muse­um. This book is exquis­ite­ly ren­dered. After more than 77 books, Grimes remains as inspired as ever, draw­ing on the his­toric strength of Black women’s bril­liance to give a time­ly, heal­ing mir­ror to a new gen­er­a­tion of read­ers. The ances­tors are proud.

“Black girls every­where, this col­lec­tion is salve and sanc­tu­ary.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

A shout-out for Lega­cy from Bet­sy Bird, “2021 Poet­ry: Ver­si­fi­ca­tion for the Mass­es,” A Fuse #8 Pro­duc­tionSchool Library Jour­nal, 6 July 2021

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