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Review of HERE IN HARLEM by Walter Dean Myers

by Andrea L. Williams

Myers, Walter Dean. 2004. HERE IN HARLEM: POEMS IN MANY WORKS. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 0823418537.

HERE IN HARLEM is reminiscent of SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY. That work recreated through story poems a mythical Midwestern community. This is Myers' intention and he clearly says so in his introduction. The book is divided into five sections each "introduced" by a Harlem woman named Clara Brown. Her sections are called "testimony" and have the feeling of her being interviewed by some non native reporter who is trying to get a sense of why Harlem casts such a huge shadow in the hearts of Black America. The poems that follow either complement her words or provide a counterpoint to them. Section one's testimony has Clara saying "I love the people . . . all of them. Because one by one they may not be that much . . . All together, they're Harlem, and you can't ask for more than that." This is followed by poems of introduction of a series of different lives. There is a wickedly funny story told by a Nanny named Eleanor who works without seeming relief from her Miss Ann employer. The riff of misery ends with her happily chortling how she hopes Little Miss Ann never lets her mom know the places in Harlem they visit. Eleanor's alibi is "I'm going to say she got it from the television."

Throughout all these sections there are black and white photographs mainly from the 1930s-1940s of people, places, and events in Harlem. Some shots are of the famous such as Duke Ellington and a young teenage Dorothy Dandridge. Others are more anonymous such as a dandily dressed young man next to a poem called "Sam DuPree, hustler." Both the variety of people's lives and the photos have a sense of showing that because this area is so concentrated with Black people in this section of New York City the good and the bad stand out so strongly. If this work were introduced with emphasis on the photographs and having some of the poems read aloud, it would connect to an audience. There is a one page people, places, and terms defined list to put a context to the lives mentioned that may be unfamiliar to young adults.

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