Carver: A Life in Poems

by Marilyn Nelson

Hardcover, 2001



Local notes

811 Nel






Front Street imprint of Boyds Mills Press (2001), Edition: 1st, 112 pages


This collection of poems assembled by award-winning writer Marilyn Nelson provides young readers with a compelling, lyrical account of the life of revered African-American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. Born in 1864 and raised by white slave owners, Carver left home in search of an education and eventually earned a master's degree in agriculture. In 1896, he was invited by Booker T. Washington to head the agricultural department at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute. There he conducted innovative research to find uses for crops such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and peanuts, while seeking solutions to the plight of landless black farmers. Through 44 poems, told from the point of view of Carver and the people who knew him, Nelson celebrates his character and accomplishments. She includes prose summaries of events and archival photographs.--Publisher information.… (more)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

112 p.; 6.25 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member Katya0133
This book of poems imagines various moments of George Washington Carver's life (and the lives of people he came into contact with), some pivotal, some quiet and contemplative. Many of the poems include short biographical footnotes—useful for signposting major events of his life. A traditional
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biography would be preferable for those wanting more details about Carver's life, but by the end of this book, I felt as though I truly knew him.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
This is a biography of George Washington Carver, told as a series of poems from a variety of different perspectives. Or, to be more accurate, it's a hagiography. Did George Washington Carver ever do anything wrong? Apparently not. I don't know enough about the man to say if that's true or not, but
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it doesn't make for interesting reading to learn about how right Carver was about everything time and again. I'm surprised that the man didn't solve racism with his bare hands after he invented peanut butter. The poems are pretty typical free verse for the most part; nothing really caught my attention.
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LibraryThing member lmaddux
7-8th grade, read during black history month, couple of poems on God could read for discussion, how some one in that time period and those hardships viewed God and how times have changed ... how do we view God now?
LibraryThing member ChristinPina
George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri around the year 1864. His mother Mary was owned by the Carvers but then one day; Mary and George were taken away from the Carvers. After this the Carvers sent a man named John to find them but he only found the infant George. The
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Carvers then took care of George and his older brother named Jim. The Carvers raised the boys as if they were their own children. By the year of 1877, George decided to leave home in search of an education. Later on he eventually earned his master’s degree and later helped Booker T. Washington by teaching an agriculture class. He later developed easier ways to grow and use crops.

Personal Reaction:
I really enjoyed this book mostly because it was written in poems. Even though it was like a biography of George Carver it was written really well. I liked that it actually had little photographs after the end of every poem to provided proof of the events.

Classroom Extension ideas:
1.) Discuss life now compared to it back then
2.) Discuss slavery and how it affect the world
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LibraryThing member KylieNelson
Born in 1864 and raised by white slave owners, Carver left home in search of an education and eventually earned a master’s degree in agriculture and went on to teach at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute. This book is great because its made up of 44 poems told from the point of view of
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Carver and friends, which allows kids to understand and maybe learn to love poetry. This book is great for ages 11 and up.
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LibraryThing member Tvickrey
This nonfiction collection of poems is a great poetry book for older children. It deals with many relevant issues about self esteem and self identity. I don't normally enjoy poetry but I appreciated this collection.
LibraryThing member electrascaife
Does just what it says on the tin - tells Carver's life story in verse. It takes a particular kind of poetry to grab my attention, and this isn't it, but I willingly admit that that's my own shortcoming and no fault of this book.
LibraryThing member elenchus
I don’t know if Nelson invented the format but for me it was a revelation.

Arranged chronologically as signposts in Carver's life, nevertheless each of Nelson's poems stands alone. The opening verses, for example, relay the musings of a mercenary hired to hunt down a missing woman, Mary, and
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Mary’s infant son. The mercenary finds the boy, but not Mary, and is rewarded. That boy is Carver, and the mercenary’s tale of triumph and reward serves as Carver’s “origin story”. (We never hear from the mercenary again.) Nelson builds up a picture of Carver from many such poems: singular, isolated, most observing the man from distance. Carver is revealed to be amiable, curious, generous, and accomplished, but always a person apart.

Nelson in her verse observes Carver's personal qualities, evoking images and tones, avoiding Biblical inventory of ancestral history, Homeric tallies of the dead and their deeds. Seemingly recognizing that most readers will be almost wholly unfamiliar with Carver's biography, however, she appends relevant documentary detail in occasional footnotes: bulleted almanac entries with the necessary detail for a fuller appreciation of a given poem. Not all poems need them; in one instance, a photograph explains an obscure reference. It was not wholly clear to me, in that first poem, what tale the mercenary was telling, or the significance of his hiring, until the poem’s footnote was read, but the story was in the poem, not the footnote.

Typically Nelson's poems assume the perspective of someone not among Carver’s intimates. In this way the poems mimic the position of the book’s readers: outside looking in on a life, telling a story from what little can be known without having participated. There are several exceptions: perhaps three (of almost 60 poems). One is narrated by Carver, "My beloved friend", reading as though we've opened a letter intended for someone else. Another appears to quote from a different letter, then proceeds to observe the letterwriter without comment. "Last Talk with Jim Hardwick" is subtitled “a found poem”; whether wholly invented or taken from a diary, however, is unclear.

I opened this book knowing no more than I learned in primary school: Carver was a black scientist who found countless uses for the humble peanut. Having read it, somehow I know Carver as a person brimming over with talent and insight, a man of science and of spiritual visions, all of this tempered by his gentle demeanor. I am all the better for meeting him.
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½ (56 ratings; 4)
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