Marilyn Nelson on Fortune’s Bones

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Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem is the poet Marilyn Nelson’s rendering of a really horrific true story about a slave owner in Connecticut who dissected the slave Fortune’s bones and “hung them in his house for a little medical school.” “My first thought,” said Nelson, “was what would it be like to be Dinah, Fortune’s wife? To be living with her husband’s skeleton living in the house?”

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo has a new interview on Blog Talk Radio with Marilyn Nelson about the book.

These poems, some of which I was lucky enough to once hear her read, are really incredible, and her work opens up all sorts of questions about historical poetry. The most notable of which is the question of whether or not poetry might be a better way to teach history than the dry text books we all remember from grade school. It’s worth noting that this book, morbid subject matter aside, won two awards for Children’s Books back in 2005.

“I’m telling parts of history that need to be told and retold. It’s where we get our identity from…The fact that the stories are written in poems,” she says, “means they are being read by people that might not pick up a history book.”


Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He’s been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →