The Freedom Business

by Marilyn Nelson and Deborah Muirhead

Venture Smith was born in Guinea, a prince of his father’s regional kingdom.... read more

Venture Smith was born in Guinea, a prince of his father’s regional kingdom. Captured by slave traders at age six and brought to America, he worked for thirty years as a slave before buying his own and his family’s freedom, and then struggling to secure a future. His remarkable story is known to us today in part because Venture Smith told it in his time—his is considered the first slave narrative. Venture is the inspiration for Marilyn Nelson’s latest addition to her body of work illuminating African American experience. Her poems here reflect and extend the power of Venture’s own words. Venture’s narrative appears on the left hand side of each page spread, while an accompanying poem by Nelson, demanding reader’s further consideration of the pain, irony and cruelty of Venture’s story, is on the right. In a poem titled “How I Came By My Name,” opposite a section of narrative in which Venture reflects back on when he was still called Broteer, still in Africa, but already captured and being traded for rum and fabric, Nelson writes, “. . . Four casks of rum and a piece of cloth . . . The boy who was Borteer / disappeared. A business venture took his place. . . / Breath, dreams, pulse, traded for cloth and alcohol, / were capital . There was profit in the pain, / the chains. Venture. There were whole worlds to gain.” The words of this singular volume are set against somber abstract illustrations by Deborah Dancy. (Age 13 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2009

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