Review of Outspoken: Paul Robeson, Ahead of His Time: A One-Man Show

Outspoken: Paul Robeson, Ahead of His Time: A One-Man Show Outspoken: Paul Robeson, Ahead of His Time: A One-Man Show
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Eric Velasquez
Intermediate    Candlewick    48 pp.
4/24    9781536212976    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781536234602    $18.99

Weatherford provides an unflinching look at the life of Robeson (1898–1976), activist, scholar, singer, actor, and athlete. Through a series of resonant first-person, free-verse poems, she covers his life from childhood just one generation removed from enslavement to international stardom as an entertainer and his subsequent blacklisting by the federal government. The book is divided into four acts: Youth, Artist, Activist, and Erased. Weatherford’s poems are interspersed with lines from Negro spirituals (which Robeson was known for singing), such as “Steal Away” and “Scandalize My Name,” along with his own words. Robeson earned a law degree, but discrimination led him to leave that career behind and focus on the arts, a love of his since childhood. Following his success on the stage, Robeson became more active politically, and Weatherford uses his own words to describe his feelings upon visiting the Soviet Union in 1934: “Here I am not a Negro but a human being.” Support for the USSR cost him his livelihood. Weatherford doesn’t shy away from the racism he faced (including spelling out a racial slur) or from Robeson’s suicide attempt. Velasquez’s illustrations, produced in oil on watercolor paper, capture Robeson’s stature as well as his despair. The book ends with Robeson contemplating how he will be remembered. A timeline, source notes, a bibliography, and copyright acknowledgments for illustrations inspired by existing photos are appended.

From the May/June 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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