I Heard God Talking to Me William Edmondson and His Stone Carvings

Elizabeth Spires

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

0374335281

9780374335281

Hardcover

64 Pages

$17.95

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One night in the early 1930s, William Edmondson, the son of former slaves and a janitor in Nashville, Tennessee, heard God speaking to him. And so he began to carve—tombstones, birdbaths, and stylized human figures, whose spirits seemed to emerge fully formed from the stone. Soon Edmondson’s talents caught the eye of prominent members of the art world, and in 1937 he became the first black artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Here, in twenty-three free-verse poems, award-winning poet Elizabeth Spires gives voice to Edmondson and his creations, which tell their individual stories with wit and passion. With stunning photographs, including ten archival masterpieces by Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Edward Weston, this is a compelling portrait of a truly original American artist.

REVIEWS

Praise for I Heard God Talking to Me

“The larger questions—what is it that art, in various media, can show us—appeal to a broad audience, on beyond our fascination with this one artist.” —Chicago Tribune

“A Beautiful book pairing Spires’ poems with photos of the self-taught sculptor who became the first black artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art.” —St. Petersburg Times

“Though the concept is sophisticated as well as imaginative, Spires’ eloquent verses are certainly accessible to young readers, and they’re effective blends of the concrete and the imaginative; while playfulness predominates in the poetry as art, there’s a sense of wonder and a vivid respect for the artist that underpins the humor.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“A veritable treasure.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Will encourage both youth and adult readers to explore the rich interplay between poetry and art.” —Booklist

"Elizabeth Spires’s I Heard God Talking to Me blends free verse, photography, and sculpture into a mesmerizing portrait of a unique artist. The illiterate son of freed slaves, William Edmondson (1874-1951) was 57 when a voice directed him to begin stonecutting ('I knowed it was God telling me what to do'). Working out of his yard in Nashville, Tennessee, he scavenged scraps of limestone and carved them into tombstones and stylized figures—whimsical animals, mythical personages, and assorted individuals (both nameless) and famous). Though his sculptures eventually caught the eye of the art world (he was the first black artist to have a solo show at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 1937) the attention had little effect on his humble lifestyle and heartfelt calling to create. Spires gives voice to Edmondson’s stone creations in a series of vividly imagined poems, each paired with a photo. Utilizing a delightful variety of tones and narrative styles, the carvings muse about their origins, their perceptions of the world, and the artist who released their hidden-in-stone souls. Several poems sculpted from Edmondson’s own words are paired with riveting archival photographs of the stonecutter, melding verbal and visual images to eloquently convey his earnest inspirations, rock-solid faith, and quiet wisdom. In addition to introducing Edmondson’s life, work, and place in history, this handsome book can launch discussions about artists' inspirations and the creative process. Nurture art appreciation and creative writing by having students pen their own pieces from the perspective of a work of art."—School Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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ELIZABETH SPIRES, the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, is the author of six poetry collections for adults, and the children’s book The Mouse of Amherst. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Elizabeth Spires

  • Elizabeth Spires, the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, is the author of six poetry collections for adults, and the children’s book The Mouse of Amherst. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Elizabeth Spires Jerry Bauer
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