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Black Girl You Are Atlas

Author Renée Watson On Tour
Read by Renée Watson On Tour
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A thoughtful celebration of Black girlhood by award-winning author and poet Renée Watson.

In this semi-autobiographical collection of poems, Renée Watson writes
about her experience growing up as a young Black girl at the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Using a variety of poetic forms, from haiku to free verse, Watson shares recollections of her childhood in Portland, tender odes to the Black women in her life, and urgent calls for Black girls to step into their power.

Black Girl You Are Atlas encourages young readers to embrace their future with a strong sense of sisterhood and celebration. This collection offers guidance and is a gift for anyone who listens to it.
at•​las | \ 'at-les \
from Merriam-Webster Dictionary

1 capitalized:
a Titan who for his part in the Titans’ revolt 
against the gods is forced by Zeus 
to support the heavens on his shoulders

2 capitalized: one who bears a heavy burden

3(a): a bound collection of maps 
often including illustrations, 
informative tables, or textual matter

Black girl you are Atlas. The way you carry the weight of the hood on your shoulders like a too-heavy backpack. How you big-sister the Black boys on the playground, in the classroom, in the back row of the choir stand who need a good stare-down every now and then. You already know when to tell your friend, He ain’t the one for you. You already know she won’t listen and you will be there to wipe her tears when love fails her. Black girl you are Atlas. The way your very presence in a room is a reminder of where you come from, a demand of what you are owed. Black girl you are atlas. Your bones a collection of histories, your blood rivers and flows, rivers and flows. You carry the dirges, the wailing. You carry the requiem of your ancestors, you are proof of their sweet breath. You queened and ruled and slaved and plowed and escaped and fought and got captured and fought and marched and protested and raised funds and raised fists and fought and fought and passed out flyers and voted in and voted out and fought and fought for your rights, for your peace of mind, for today, for tomorrow. Black girl you are atlas. You carry the jig and the two-step. You are festival and feast. You are nourishment in famine. Black girl you are atlas. You know the way back, the way forward. Black girl you are Atlas. The way no one expected you to be the fulfillment of prophecy. But it is you, always, who holds the world up.


Sisterhood Haiku, I


And what would we do
without the knowing women?
How could we survive?


That Girl


Ooh, look at that girl.
You see the way she walk?
Like she got somewhere to be.
No.
Like she tryin’ to leave?
Yeah.
She walkin’ fast, like she gotta get away
and never come back.
Walkin’ from a dark past, a few mistakes.
That girl look like she walkin’ from a home
that don’t know she gone,
or that just don’t care.

You see that girl’s eyes?
Her eyes look empty.
Look like they were once full of tears,
but she done let the tears go.
Look like she can’t cry no more,
even if she wanted to.
Look like she can’t laugh no more
but sounds like she tries to.
I hear her gigglin’ on the street corner,
flirtin’ with those boys.
So good at pretendin’, she almost believes her smile.
So good at pretendin’, they almost believe it too.

That girl.

That girl used to have innocent moments
playin’ Simon Says on school playgrounds.
That girl used to sit on the porch swing at Big Momma’s house
eatin’ watermelon from a tin pan.
So naïve that she would save the seeds 
so she could plant them later.

That girl. 

That girl done changed.
She done got older and started realizin’
that people break promises and forget to say sorry.
That girl. That girl done changed.
She done got older and started realizin’
that she’s growin’ up to be just like her mother,
even though she don’t want to be.
Can’t help it. That girl.
She wants to get away. Out of this city.
Start over.
Have a new reputation.
An erased past.

That girl wants to move to a place
where the watermelon she eats is seedless
so there will be no disappointment from fruitless harvests.


Phenomenon


I have no Black Girl Magic
to give today.

Today, I am regular.
Not insufficient,
not more than enough.
Just me. Just right.

I am hair bonnet, 
chipped nail polish, and unpolished toes.

I am morning breath
and crusted eyes and no makeup at all.

And all I have is the lullaby 
my momma sang to me 
about a mockingbird and a diamond ring 
that in real life she never could afford. 

And all I have is this history tied around my neck
haunting and hyping me.
All I have is the resilience I inherited.

And all I have is this drum in my chest
beating, thumping, reminding me 
that I have survived all my yesterdays. 

The magic is all ways me.
The miracle is that I even exist at all.
Renée Watson is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, educator, and community activist. Her books have sold over one million copies. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017), received a Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor. Her children's picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many places, including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. embassies in Japan and New Zealand. Her poetry and fiction center the experiences of Black girls and women, and explore themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Ekua Holmes is a collage-based artist who investigates family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, and the power of hope, faith, and self-determination in her work. She has created and led workshops, been a visiting artist and lecturer, and held artist residencies throughout New England. For her work in illustrating children’s literature, Holmes is the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, Robert Siebert and Horn Book awards. She is also currently Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Boston Art Commission, along with Associate Director at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt.

About

A thoughtful celebration of Black girlhood by award-winning author and poet Renée Watson.

In this semi-autobiographical collection of poems, Renée Watson writes
about her experience growing up as a young Black girl at the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Using a variety of poetic forms, from haiku to free verse, Watson shares recollections of her childhood in Portland, tender odes to the Black women in her life, and urgent calls for Black girls to step into their power.

Black Girl You Are Atlas encourages young readers to embrace their future with a strong sense of sisterhood and celebration. This collection offers guidance and is a gift for anyone who listens to it.

Excerpt

at•​las | \ 'at-les \
from Merriam-Webster Dictionary

1 capitalized:
a Titan who for his part in the Titans’ revolt 
against the gods is forced by Zeus 
to support the heavens on his shoulders

2 capitalized: one who bears a heavy burden

3(a): a bound collection of maps 
often including illustrations, 
informative tables, or textual matter

Black girl you are Atlas. The way you carry the weight of the hood on your shoulders like a too-heavy backpack. How you big-sister the Black boys on the playground, in the classroom, in the back row of the choir stand who need a good stare-down every now and then. You already know when to tell your friend, He ain’t the one for you. You already know she won’t listen and you will be there to wipe her tears when love fails her. Black girl you are Atlas. The way your very presence in a room is a reminder of where you come from, a demand of what you are owed. Black girl you are atlas. Your bones a collection of histories, your blood rivers and flows, rivers and flows. You carry the dirges, the wailing. You carry the requiem of your ancestors, you are proof of their sweet breath. You queened and ruled and slaved and plowed and escaped and fought and got captured and fought and marched and protested and raised funds and raised fists and fought and fought and passed out flyers and voted in and voted out and fought and fought for your rights, for your peace of mind, for today, for tomorrow. Black girl you are atlas. You carry the jig and the two-step. You are festival and feast. You are nourishment in famine. Black girl you are atlas. You know the way back, the way forward. Black girl you are Atlas. The way no one expected you to be the fulfillment of prophecy. But it is you, always, who holds the world up.


Sisterhood Haiku, I


And what would we do
without the knowing women?
How could we survive?


That Girl


Ooh, look at that girl.
You see the way she walk?
Like she got somewhere to be.
No.
Like she tryin’ to leave?
Yeah.
She walkin’ fast, like she gotta get away
and never come back.
Walkin’ from a dark past, a few mistakes.
That girl look like she walkin’ from a home
that don’t know she gone,
or that just don’t care.

You see that girl’s eyes?
Her eyes look empty.
Look like they were once full of tears,
but she done let the tears go.
Look like she can’t cry no more,
even if she wanted to.
Look like she can’t laugh no more
but sounds like she tries to.
I hear her gigglin’ on the street corner,
flirtin’ with those boys.
So good at pretendin’, she almost believes her smile.
So good at pretendin’, they almost believe it too.

That girl.

That girl used to have innocent moments
playin’ Simon Says on school playgrounds.
That girl used to sit on the porch swing at Big Momma’s house
eatin’ watermelon from a tin pan.
So naïve that she would save the seeds 
so she could plant them later.

That girl. 

That girl done changed.
She done got older and started realizin’
that people break promises and forget to say sorry.
That girl. That girl done changed.
She done got older and started realizin’
that she’s growin’ up to be just like her mother,
even though she don’t want to be.
Can’t help it. That girl.
She wants to get away. Out of this city.
Start over.
Have a new reputation.
An erased past.

That girl wants to move to a place
where the watermelon she eats is seedless
so there will be no disappointment from fruitless harvests.


Phenomenon


I have no Black Girl Magic
to give today.

Today, I am regular.
Not insufficient,
not more than enough.
Just me. Just right.

I am hair bonnet, 
chipped nail polish, and unpolished toes.

I am morning breath
and crusted eyes and no makeup at all.

And all I have is the lullaby 
my momma sang to me 
about a mockingbird and a diamond ring 
that in real life she never could afford. 

And all I have is this history tied around my neck
haunting and hyping me.
All I have is the resilience I inherited.

And all I have is this drum in my chest
beating, thumping, reminding me 
that I have survived all my yesterdays. 

The magic is all ways me.
The miracle is that I even exist at all.

Author

Renée Watson is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, educator, and community activist. Her books have sold over one million copies. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017), received a Coretta Scott King Award and a Newbery Honor. Her children's picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many places, including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. embassies in Japan and New Zealand. Her poetry and fiction center the experiences of Black girls and women, and explore themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Ekua Holmes is a collage-based artist who investigates family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, and the power of hope, faith, and self-determination in her work. She has created and led workshops, been a visiting artist and lecturer, and held artist residencies throughout New England. For her work in illustrating children’s literature, Holmes is the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, Robert Siebert and Horn Book awards. She is also currently Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Boston Art Commission, along with Associate Director at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt.