The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

by Margarita Engle

Other authorsSean Qualls (Illustrator)
Paperback, 2011



Local notes

921 MAN






Square Fish (2011), Edition: Bilingual edition, 208 pages


Juan Francisco Manzano was born in 1797 into the household of wealthy slaveowners in Cuba. He spent his early years at the side of his owner's wife, entertaining her friends. His poetry was his outlet, reflecting the beauty and cruelty of his world. Written in verse.


Original language


Physical description

208 p.; 5.47 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member ewyatt
Written in verse, this biography details the early life of Juan Francisco Manzano. He was a boy born into slavery. He was taken from his birth mother and treated as a "poodle" by Dona Beatriz. Although promised freedom at the event of Beatriz's death, he becomes the slave of La Marquesa de Prado
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Ameno. She is a vindictive, cruel, and unpredictable master. With frequent beatings and horrible punishments, Manzano someone preserves his spirits through his love of words, poetry, and art. He nutures many talents. Although he looses almost everything, he manages to keep his desire for his freedom. There is a really interesting afterward to the book about Manzano and even some samples of his poetry.
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LibraryThing member JonathanToups
I was surprised by this book. This is a biography in the most unusual of senses. This story investigates Juan Fransisco Manzano, the poet slave of Cuba through poetry. This is an interesting way to have students read poetry for a distinct purpose, and use clues of poetry to construct an
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understanding of the facts of a person's life. Because nothing is really given to the reader outright, it is the duty of the reader to sort out the details of the life, a task that turns out actually to be pretty fun. The poetry is great and beautiful, and students could also perform them. I recommend this book for language arts classrooms.
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LibraryThing member scottpalmo
This is a book that was written by Magarita Engle. Engle has compiled a list of peoms from a young boy by the name of Juan Francisco Manzano. During the 18th century Mazano was forced to take care of a lady (slave owner in Cuba) her name was La Marquesa De Prado Ameno. She forced him to attend to
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all of her needs. She even takes him to parties and forces him to sing for her friends. She forces him to call her Mama, even though she is not his Mama. He does not like tending to her every need. He even explains how he perceives her " Once on a day when I was not tied up and gagged, I took some brushes that Don Nicolas had given me. I was angry. I painted a witch. The witch was doctoring a demon, healing the demon taking care of the demon. The witch was happy. The demon was sorrowful. Everyone who saw my painting laughed." Throughout the story Juan keeps making reference to this lady and how she tortures him and how much she dislikes being around her. She also complains about him as well. This is certainly a great book, however because of the content, I don't think I can read it again. It is to sad for me.
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LibraryThing member bnhays
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LibraryThing member katiejanelewis
Written in poetic novel form, this book tells the story of Juan Francisco Manzano. He was a Cuban slave who became well-known for his innate sense of poetry and verse.
LibraryThing member sexy_librarian
A beautifully written book in verse, it tells of the life of Juan Fransisco Manzano, a Cuban poet who was born a slave. His story is told from not only his point of view, but from the point of view of his mother, father, and two "owners." His first mistress treated as some sort of pet, dressing him
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up and showing him off, appearing, for all intensive purposes, to care for him. She promised his mother freedom upon her death, but rather than being free himself, Juan was passed on to another woman who felt that his gift was something to be squashed, unfitting of a slave. The reader suffers with him as his punishments are described, terrible even in verse. Even if the verse may put off some readers, it should be pushed anyway because it is not dense, and almost easier to read, as well as adding to the ambiance and tone of the book, reading the world as Manzano himself may have. Recommended to middle school and high school readers.
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LibraryThing member Ellen_Norton
This novel, written entirely in verse, tells the story of Cuban slave poet Juan Francisco Manzano. The story alternates point of view from Juan, his mother, his slave owner, and her son, along with several other interjections. The verse is sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hopeful, telling the
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story of Juan's slavery even after his family is set free. The vivid descriptions of torture because of his genius and desire to always acquire knowledge are hard to read at times, but the poetry shines through making this a good read.
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LibraryThing member RosanaSantana
This novel told in verse is about Juan Francisco Manzano, the poet slave of Cuba. Although the book is a little hard to get into, it is a beautiful and heartfelt story and introduces its reader to a great poet. Highly Recommended read.
LibraryThing member cfordLIS722
A biography about the poet Juan Francisco Manzano who was a slave. The story shows the horrible life of slavery.
LibraryThing member compjohn
This novel in verse about the real-life poet Juan Francisco Manzano, who started life as a slave on the sugar plantations of Cuba, hauntingly and devastatingly captures the essence of the time (late 18th/early 19th century) and place (Cuba under the decadent Spanish Empire). Told from various
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points of view—Juan, his natural mother, the horrible, sadistic mistress whose resentment of him grows the crueler she is to him, her son who tries to show Juan kindness, an overseer who agonizes over the pain he causes. Stark yet gorgeous, angry yet graceful, this work challenges and exhilarates.
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LibraryThing member Jennanana
Listened to audiobook. Boring to listen to because of the narrators. This is a biography of the Poet Juan Francisco Manzano, a poet from Cuba. He was thrown into slavery but fought back with his creative mind by learning to read and write.
LibraryThing member d_jones
Earning the 2006 Pura Belpre Medal Book Author Award, this heart twisting book in verse, assembles the tragic biography of a young Cuban slave, Juan Fransicso Manzano. Even though one night he escapes on horseback after years of abuse by a cruel master whom he must call "mother" , the story still
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leaves you with a feeling of anger overshadowed with sadness for his torment and those slaves who never escaped. One would think this young slave destined to be at the mercy of his horrible existence would never have the courage to leave, but fear did not consume him, rather it was his longing for freedom to speak and write his poetry. This book in verse is promising for the classroom in many areas such as slavery, an historical primary source, history of the African Diaspora, and writing in verse.
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LibraryThing member Tables
I love that the author decided to tell the story of a poet's life through poetry. I think this book really challenges readers to rethink what nonfiction is and can do.
LibraryThing member edspicer
We have seen an explosion of verse novels every since Karen Hesse won the Newbery with the magnificent Out of the Dust. Many of the novels I read do not strike me as especially poetic. I read them and wonder why the author chose a verse form. Here is a verse novel in which the poetry is absolutely
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essential. The fact that this book is also a biography is icing on the cake. Juan Francisco Manzano is a slave yet he writes in free verse, a great example of using form to enhance function. In this book we have themes of racism (and I do love the way in which the white child attempts to help). The black and white sketches add to the book's value and give readers other access options. That fairness aspect, the promises broken, getting punished for things you do not do--make this book accessible for a younger audience, but there is enough sophistication in the poetry and the character development to sustain older readers. There is violence and brutal situations discussed. This book also gives voice to even those near villain characters. Juan moves from a preteen 11 year old to a 16 year old, which is reflected in the language of the poems. Highly and universally recommended!
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LibraryThing member Desirichter
Elegantly written character-driven poetry recounting the life of Juan Manzana. Warning, this text takes some wrestling with, perhaps more than other recently reviewed books. The book is filled with vivid imagery. So vivid that some audiences may find the violence difficult to deal with. I know I
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did. Nonetheless a valuable resource. Social studies connections are there, but this book may not be appropriate for the younger ages whom I will be teaching.
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LibraryThing member Kbernard
At first, simply flipping through the pages, I didn't think I was going to be able to understand this book. I thought it was going to be a bunch of poems together to make a book. I was 100% inaccurate. I loved this book. The story of Juan was incredible. The hardships he faced were unimaginable. I
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can't imagine going through any of the awful things he endured. It's a wonderful story about determination, faith, and perseverance. I would definitely recommend this book!
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LibraryThing member SuPendleton
This biography, written in verse, is a beautiful tribute to the poet, Juan Francisco Manzano. Born into slavery, it depicts his tragic life from childhood until he is able to escape to freedom. It is also the story of his mother who worked to free him but was never able to. It is amazing he could
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rise above the cruelty, pain and humiliation he had to endure.Margarita Engle bases her book on the autobiography published of the poet's life. He was able to smuggle papers from Cuba where they were published in England. An excerpt from "My Thirty Years" - translated- "When I look back the distance I've run/ from the cradle to this present day/ I tremble and greet my fortune/ more with terror than polite attention."
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LibraryThing member KMClark
I initially was intrigued with the form author Margarita Engle used to tell Manzano's story. Juan Francisco Manzano was born into slavery, where he lived two very different lives at the hands of his masters. One relationship shows a woman who treats him as if young Juan is her "toy" to parade
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around as a prized object; while his next master abuses him, partly because of her jealousy at Juan's knowledge. The Poet Slave of Cuba, while written beautifully and from various characters' perspectives, makes this a very realistic, gut-wrenching, and inspirational biography.
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LibraryThing member kradish
Fascinating poetic character study of historical figures. Great for studying the emotional toll of slavery on all parties involved.
LibraryThing member jcarroll12
A beautiful portrayal of Juan Francisco Manzano's biography. This was admittedly the first time I heard his story, and Engle's poetic verse replicates the contradictory life of beauty and pain that Manzano endured as a slave. So fascinating to see different characters' development and voice through
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poetry and not just prose!
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LibraryThing member lbblackwell
A beautiful biography of Juan Francisco Manzano told in poetry form, this verse novel tells of the horrific cruelty he endured at the hands of his owner and the hope he held onto until his escape. This is a great novel to pair with Social Studies.
LibraryThing member Emackay24
The biography of Juan Carlos Manzana, a Cuban slave who escaped to go on to be one of his country's most celebrated poets.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Subtitle: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano. Manzano was born into the household of a wealthy slaveowner in Cuba in 1797. The young Juan showed a talent for poetry, and he was used by his owner as entertainment for her friends; he recited poetry, sang opera and performed for them. Dona Beatriz
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gave Juan’s mother and father their freedom, but kept the “child of my old age” with her. Her promise that Juan, too, would be freed on her death was not kept; he was sent to the Marquesa de Prado Ameno, whose cruelty apparently knew no bounds. He eventually escaped her estate and made his way to Havana. His poetry was censored by the colonial Spanish government because his depictions of slavery were considered to incite revolution. We know of his life today only because his autobiographical notes were smuggled to England where they were published, though half his manuscript was lost, so only his earlier life is recorded in his own hand.

Engle studied Manzano’s poetry and life and was determined to write about him. She decided that to do justice to the power of his words, the biography should also be written in verse. Her poems are powerful, evoking a visceral response to the cruelty, sadness, dashed hopes and lost opportunities the young Juan experienced. But there is also the triumph of his indomitable spirit and a voice that would not be silenced.

I’m so glad I came across this little gem.
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LibraryThing member GR8inD8N
includes some semi-creepy pictures. although this whole book has a sad tone, so they match the words expertly. discusses cruel treatment of slaves.
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
A haunting and hopeful story, both for what the poems express and don't express.




½ (59 ratings; 3.9)
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