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Tanya DeVonne
In Black Skin: Poetic Journey from Black Enslavement in America to Black Lives Matter

Adult; Poetry

In Black Skin is a reflective and illustrative poetry collection that takes the reader on a lyrical journey from Black enslavement in America to the Black Lives Matter movement. This literary work, divided into five chapters and inspired by actual events, expresses sentiments around injustice, inequality, and inhumanity from the Black American lens. Chapter One: “Sankofa Reflections,” covers American slavery, segregation, the Great Migration, the Tuskegee Study, and environmental issues plaguing the Black community. Chapter Two: “Living in Black Skin,” covers gentrification, incarceration, job discrimination, cultural assimilation, “The Talk,” and racial profiling. Chapter Three: “Black Lives Matter,” highlights related themes on the movement. Chapter Four: “Say Their Names,” speaks on the unjust killing of Black people, such as George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Chapter Five: “Elevation,” celebrates the rise of Black Americans despite the plaguing discrimination they face in American society.
The term “Sankofa,” from the Twi language of Ghana, teaches the power of gathering from the past the best of what it has to teach us and carrying it into the present to help create a better future. DeVonne (Dancing in the Lyrics) exemplifies that spirit in her latest collection, which with clear eyes and aching heart digs deeply into centuries of the Black American experience, cataloging a history of enslavement, injustice, and discrimination in spare lines of rare clarity and power. “Your mind’s sweet peace / might erupt to recount vile acts of indecency,” she writes in an early poem, about the pain of facing a past (and present) in which, as another poem puts it, “black bodies burned / black bodies yoked / black bodies wrenched at the end of a rope.” Her mission, though, is clear: “I’ll broadcast the wrongs / to lift my race,” she writes in “I’ll Ride Like Rosa,” a five-stanza reminder of the courage it takes to claim one’s power and create change.

Throughout this potent, often searing volume—which offers occasional short prose pieces in addition to its crisp verse—DeVonne faces the horrors that have been visited upon Black bodies and lives, from the slave trade to mass incarceration, the poisoned water of Flint, Michigan, the names of Black men and women killed by police, to the white fear that enables police brutality. One powerful piece lays bare the subtext of many “911 Calls”: “His skin is too black. / His nose is too wide. / His frame is too large. / His stance emits pride.”

The approach is political, cultural, and personal, as DeVonne balances her historical reckoning with the everyday trials of “working while black in an office / where pay, praises, and promotions rain / on men and women with snowy skin.” Still, a rousing spirit ultimately lifts the collection, as DeVonne celebrates heroes, breakthroughs, and reminds America itself “When I rise / you rise.”

Takeaway: A searing and ultimately rousing collection of poems about the Black American experience.

Great for fans of: Asiya Wadud, ‘Gbenga Adeoba.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A