Reflection: ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ and Accepting the Unanswered Questions

Having never studied poetry I was skeptical about comprehending over 300 pages. However, that was not the case. I found Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming moving, enlightening, and challenging. The poems, written from the perspective of a child, but through the reflection of an adult offer a unique insight into the perceptions of black childhood. This structure and information missing because of it rose a great deal of questions about Woodson’s life. What was it like having a half-brother? Was his father involved? What emotions were felt when ‘Daddy’ was sick? Did she understand the gravity of his illness? Was she dyslexic? And many more.

I struggled throughout my read, stopping to find any kind of clues that would answer these questions, some of which were answered far later like ‘Daddy’ dying because of his smoking habits. But the vast majority went unanswered, yet when I turned that last page I was okay with the outcome. I did not need these answered anymore, I realized that as a child Woodson did not have these answers, or may have never even considered these questions. This is her story. It was not written to conclude with resolution, but to muddy the narrative of black childhood. Even with major moments (Robert’s arrest, ‘Daddy’s’ death, her mother moving to New York City, etc.) received a few lines, nothing more. The focus was on what impacted her as a child.

In the beginning, I was more interested in what I thought were seminal moments that deserved more attention, but when they did not receive it I began thinking of my childhood. I started to reflect on coming home with the street lights turning on, my mothers cooking, and moving to new places and saw that these memories are what impacted me, just as they did Woodson. Now her and my life are extremely different, but commonalities exist.

After our class discussion and a closer look at “composition notebook” my problems were fully resolved. This is a story about her finding out who she is and it is not my, or anyone else’s place, to try and dictate what is important in ones life. Sometimes we need to be okay with things not going as planned.

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