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WW Norton

MacNolia Cox won the Akron District Spelling Bee, and at the age of 13 she became the first African American to reach the final round of the national competition. The Southern judges, it is thought, kept her from winning by presenting a word not on the official list. The word that tripped MacNolia, ironically, was "nemesis." When she died 40 years later, the girl who "was almost/ The national spelling champ" had become a cleaning woman, a grandmother, and "the best damn maid in town." Cox's ambition and her later frustration find incisive shape in this remarkably varied meditation on ambition, racism, discouragement and ennui, where successive pages can bring to mind a handbook of poetic forms (a double sestina, Japanese-inspired syllabics, a blues ghazal and prose poems based on definitions of prepositions), Ann Carson's "TV Men" poems, Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah and the documentary film Spellbound. Jordan (Rise) begins in Cox's later life, giving voice to her husband, John Montiere, at "The Moment Before He Asks MacNolia Out on a Date," then to MacNolia herself when in 1970 her son dies just after his return from Vietnam. As counterpoints, Jordan intersperses poems about African-Americans who won more lasting public acclaim, among them Richard Pryor, Josephine Baker and the great labor organizer and orator A. Philip Randolph. Jordan's most quotable poems, however, return to the voice of the 13-year-old speller, who "learned the word chiaroscuro/ By rolling it on my tongue// Like cotton candy the color/ Of day and night." (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. Library Journal.

About the Author

A. Van Jordan’s classes focus not only on Creative Writing but also on the ways in which engaging with film and using historical research can influence the writing. Jordan is the author of four collections: Rise, which won the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award (Tia Chucha Press, 2001); M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, (2005), which was listed as one the Best Books of 2005 by The London Times; Quantum Lyrics, (2007); and The Cineaste, (2013), W.W. Norton & Co. Jordan has been awarded a Whiting Writers Award, an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He is also a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (2007), a United States Artists Fellowship (2009), and a Lannan Literary Award in Poetry (2015). He has taught at a number of institutions including University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Texas at Austin, where he was tenured as an Associate Professor, Rutgers University-Newark where he served as the Henry Rutgers Presidential Professor, and at University of Michigan, where he served as the Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of English Language & Literature, and as Director of the Helen Zell Writers MFA Program.