The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

by Margarita Engle, Sean Qualls

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A lyrical biography of a Cuban slave who escaped to become a celebrated poet.

Born into the household of a wealthy slave owner in Cuba in 1797, Juan Francisco Manzano spent his early years by the side of a woman who made him call her Mama, even though he had a mama of his own. Denied an education, young Juan still showed an exceptional talent for poetry. His verses reflect the beauty of his world, but they also expose its hideous cruelty.

Powerful, haunting poems and breathtaking illustrations create a portrait of a life in which even the pain of slavery could not extinguish the capacity for hope.

The Poet Slave of Cuba is the winner of the 2008 Pura Belpre Medal for Narrative and a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Latino Interest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466889637
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 01/13/2015
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.

Sean Qualls is the illustrator of The Baby on the Way and Powerful Words. He lives with his wife and their son in Brooklyn, New York.

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.
Sean Qualls illustrated the widely acclaimed biographies The Poet Slave of Cuba and Dizzy. He lives with his wife and son in Brooklyn, New York.

Read an Excerpt

The Poet Slave of Cuba

A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
By Engle, Margarita

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Copyright © 2006 Engle, Margarita
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0805077065


My mind is a brush made of feathers
painting pictures of words
I remember
all that I see
every syllable
each word a twin of itself
telling two stories
at the same time
one of sorrow
the other hope

I love the words
written with my feathery mind
in the air
and with my sharp fingernails
on leaves in the garden

When my owner catches
a whiff
of the fragrance
of words
engraved in the flesh
of succulent geranium leaves
or the perfumed petals of alelí flowers
then she frowns because she knows
that I dream
with my feathers
my wings

Poetry cools me, syllables calm me
I read the verses of others
the free men
and know
that I'm never alone

Poetry sets me aflame
I grow furious
dangerous, a blaze
of soul and heart, a fiery tongue
a lantern at midnight

My first owner was sweet to me
I was her pet, a new kind of poodle
my pretty mother chosen
to be her personal handmaid

My mother
María del Pilar Manzano
a slave

Together we belonged
along with countless others
human beasts of burden
to Doña Beatríz de Justíz, La Marquesa
the proud Marchioness Justíz de Santa Ana
noble wife of Don Juan Manzano
who shares my name
he is not
my father

Don Juan rules El Molino
his plantation
on this island of sugar
and many other
sweet illusions

These were my mother's duties:
dress La Marquesa
undress her
cool her skin with a palm-leaf fan
answer questions
never ask
collect milk from new mothers
in the huts
near the fields
slave milk, the lotion used for softening
the skin
of noble ladies

This my mother accomplished:
deliver the milk
grind eggshells and rice into powder
for making la cascarada
a pale shell for hiding
the darkness
of Spaniards
who pretend
to be pale
in our presence

When the noble ladies go out in public
milk-soothed, eggshell-crusted
masked and disguised
we no longer look the same
dark owner
and dark slaves

Now my owner is ghostly
inside her skeleton of powder
but I, being only a poodle,
can watch
I am allowed
to know
these truths
about shadow
and bright

So I listen
when the ghost-owner calls me her own baby
she plays with me
and even decides
to set my true mother

Free to marry Toribio de Castro
a man also promised
his freedom

My father is winged, like my mother
oh, I envy them
what will happen
to me
little bird
left behind in this haunted nest?

She takes me with her wherever she goes
I become the companion of my owner, noble ghost
no, not a companion, remember?
a poodle, her pet
with my curly dark hair
and small child's brown skin
for the theater
and parties

So I bark
on command
I learn to whine and howl
in verse
I'm known as the smart one who never
I can listen
then recite
every word

Listen, she says to her friends
and the priest
see how little Juanito can sing
see how I've trained him
watch him

Back and forth
over and over
country home, city home, palaces, the plantation
only six years old, she says
but listen to his big funny

Back and forth
over and over
I recite strange words in several languages
Spanish, Latin, French
while my sweet ghost-Mamá-owner
and all her friends
they are forgetful
I am rememberful
I remember there is also one more mother
in my song
a bird-mother
but winged

Copyright 2006 Margarita Engle
This text is from an uncorrected proof


Excerpted from The Poet Slave of Cuba by Engle, Margarita Copyright © 2006 by Engle, Margarita. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. How did the slave experience of Juan Francisco Manzano in Cuba differ from that of slaves in the United States?

2. How did sugarcane contribute to the growth of slavery in Cuba?

3. What was the cultural hierarchy of Cuba during the 19th century? How was this revealed in The Poet Slave of Cuba?

4. What was the relationship between the individuals in The Poet Slave of Cuba? Create a diagram to assist in determining how each was connected to the other person.

5. What were the various skills and trades learned by Manzano? How were they acquired and how did he use these skills throughout his life?

6. Why was La Marquesa de Prado Ameno so sadistic in her relationship with Manzano? What do her actions tell us about her?

7. What type of interactions occurred between Manzano and Don Nicolás? Could Nicolás have assisted Juan in some way?

8. How do Sean Qualls' white, black, and gray illustrations enhance and extend the biography?

9. What do you feel is the most compelling moment or event of this story? Explain.

10. Would you film this biography in black and white or in color and why?

Customer Reviews

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Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written in verse, this biography details the early life of Juan Francisco Manzano. He was a boy born into slavery. He was taken from his birth mother and treated as a "poodle" by Dona Beatriz. Although promised freedom at the event of Beatriz's death, he becomes the slave of La Marquesa de Prado Ameno. She is a vindictive, cruel, and unpredictable master. With frequent beatings and horrible punishments, Manzano someone preserves his spirits through his love of words, poetry, and art. He nutures many talents. Although he looses almost everything, he manages to keep his desire for his freedom. There is a really interesting afterward to the book about Manzano and even some samples of his poetry.
d_jones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Earning the 2006 Pura Belpre Medal Book Author Award, this heart twisting book in verse, assembles the tragic biography of a young Cuban slave, Juan Fransicso Manzano. Even though one night he escapes on horseback after years of abuse by a cruel master whom he must call "mother" , the story still leaves you with a feeling of anger overshadowed with sadness for his torment and those slaves who never escaped. One would think this young slave destined to be at the mercy of his horrible existence would never have the courage to leave, but fear did not consume him, rather it was his longing for freedom to speak and write his poetry. This book in verse is promising for the classroom in many areas such as slavery, an historical primary source, history of the African Diaspora, and writing in verse.
Heatheranne105 More than 1 year ago
Juan Francisco Manzano¿s story, told by Margarita Engle in The Poet Slave of Cuba, is one that will break your heart through his suffering and then mend it time and again through his hope and survival.

Through lyrical verse, Engle tells of Manzano¿s life not only through his eyes, but also through the people that were connected to him whether through familial ties or servitude. Manzano¿s first owner, Doña Beatriz, thought of Juan as simply a ¿poodle,¿ a toy to be played with and thrown away when no longer needed for entertainment. However, she did say that upon her death Juan would be free from slavery. This promise was not upheld by his new, cruel owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, who felt that Juan should have been grateful for everything she ¿gave¿ him. Engle¿s words and Sean Qualls¿ images powerfully tell the reader the brutality and injustice Manzano faced as a slave.

Enlge has written an award winning book that will draw in readers of all ages. Readers catch a glimpse of the suffering Manzano and other salves faced daily in Cuba. Engle¿s poetry gives a depth to the story that an informational biography may not have. Her poetic prose allows the reader to not only know Manzano¿s story, but to also feel it.