Ellington Was Not a Street

by Ntozake Shange and Kadir Nelson

Ntozake Shange’s 1983 poem “Mood Indigo,” which she wrote as a... read more

Ntozake Shange’s 1983 poem “Mood Indigo,” which she wrote as a tribute to many of the Black American men “who changed the world,” is the text of a powerful picture book stunningly illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Shange’s poem references “Mood Indigo” as the title of a song by Duke Ellington, who, along with musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Paul Robeson, move in and out of the home of the poem’s narrator—a young woman looking back on her childhood. Other visitors include W.E.B. DuBois, Virgil “Honey Bear” Akins and President Kwame Nkurmah of Ghana. The poem speaks to the cultural and social history of African Americans as well as continuing struggles: “politics as necessary as collards,” “sonny til was not a boy”, “virgil akins was not the only fighter,” “our windows were not cement or steel.” Nelson’s full-page portraits of the men conversing and interacting with one another, watched by the young girl, provide an elegant visual narrative. Each painting is beautifully composed and balanced, full of vibrant, dignified individuals. Brief biographical information about each individual referenced in the text is provided on the final two pages in a book that is an enriching encounter with history, art, and poetry. (Ages 6–18)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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