It’s Monday, and here’s what I’m reading: 5/20/13

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Perogies and Gyoza

Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet is writer/illustrator Andrea Chen’s masterful collection of poems,  which tell the story of how an enslaved man transformed his craft into protest art.  

Dave’s first documentation of ownership occurs in 1818, in a bill of sale such as this:
At, seventeen, he is purchased for the express purpose of using his strength to haul clay from the river to the potter’s cabins where it is transformed into the pottery Edgefield, South Carolina is famous for.  But Dave soon becomes skilled at the craft itself, and learns how to fashion beautiful pots which are much in demand for storage.  Dave also learns to read and write, and rather than keeping this dangerous secret to himself (it is against the law for slaves to be literate,after all), Dave signs his own name to the pots he creates.  Soon, he takes this one step further – he writes lines from poems, witty observations, and riddles as well.   The more Dave is cautioned against this dangerous practice  the more daring he becomes – his signed pots become his way of challenging Southern society and their embrace of slavery.
Dave’s story is told through a series of poems in the alternating voices of a cast of characters – the  owners, the women Dave was married to and then was sold away from, and Dave himself.  The poems of the enslaved are   especially touching to read; these were people caught in the clutches of a terrible system, one that tore apart helpless families time and time again.  Through all the tumult of his life and the times he lived in – secession, Civil War, Reconstruction – Dave turns to his art as a means of survival and self expression.  In the poem, “Etched in Clay,” Dave speaks of his pottery this way:
…I am not afraid
 to write on a jar
and fire it hot
so my word
can never be erased.
And if some day
this jar cracks,
my word will stay,
etched in the shards.”
Cheng’s beautiful woodcuts are powerful visuals, as well:

Ironically, fittingly, Dave’s pottery are treasured items today, sought after for museums and galleries.  His signature can be seen clearly in each – defiant through the ages:
You can read more about the history of Dave in this fascinating New York Times article.

Here is an  interview with the author by Rob Neufeld, whose book Carolina Clay is an investigation into the life and times of Dave, his pottery, and the difficult task of tracking down the histories of those that were enslaved: 

And here is potter Steve Ferrell of Old Edgefield Pottery, where Dave crafted so many of his treasures recounting his  life and work :


9 thoughts on “It’s Monday, and here’s what I’m reading: 5/20/13

  1. Thanks for sharing this review. I also have read Etched in Clay and thought it was such a well done work. I liked the idea of presenting it in poetry. Dave was really a hero!

  2. I have this book sitting in my family room, ready to read! I was interested in it because I love the picture book Dave the Potter, which I see The Styling Librarian mentioned! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi there Tara dearest, I sooo love the story of Dave. I reviewed Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier's version entitled "Dave the Potter" and also shared the same video clip you just posted! You know what they say about great minds. 🙂 Truly an inspiring story! 🙂

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