The award-winning poet and novelist Elizabeth Acevedo has rewritten her famous spoken-word poem “Hair,” which she wrote more than a decade ago. Acevedo referenced the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act, a bill preventing the discrimination of individuals based on hair texture and style. The politics of hair, especially Black hair, reverberates from the boardroom to the playground. Braids, locs, weaves, and natural styles have long been a point of discussion and contention. The CROWN Act, passed by the House in March, was a formal acknowledgment of a movement to reclaim natural styles, and it is perhaps fitting that the new Supreme Court justice-to-be, Ketanji Brown Jackson, has sisterlocs, which she wore proudly during the nationally broadcast confirmation hearings.
Acevedo’s Inheritance: A Visual Poem (Quill Tree Books, 2022), with illustrations from Andrea Pippins, is available on May 3. The National Poetry Slam champion was born and raised in New York City to Dominican parents and identifies as Afro-Latina.
They call them wild curls
I call them breathing
With this poem, Acevedo is reclaiming her ancestry and fighting against what most Black girls and women have been told throughout generations, which is to “fix” their hair—code for straighten and hide their hair’s natural state. Acevedo is a poet who knows how to meet the moment. She designed her own performing arts degree at George Washington University, and when a student she was teaching in Maryland said that there were no books she could relate to, Acevedo decided to write those books.
Acevedo spoke to Oprah Daily in 2020 about writing for teenagers and her novel Clap When You Land: “I think it’s critical that young women of color in particular see books that represent them tenderly and with love, that remind them that you are powerful and there is no template. So I’m going to give then a bunch of different kinds of characters that are Afro-Latina that show the many different ways we can move through the world, as an affirmation that whatever kind of young women you’re trying to be—it’s dope.
Acevedo’s work also includes With the Fire on High (2019), the New York Times bestselling novel The Poet X (2018), and the poetry chapbook Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (2016). She has won multiple awards for the Poet X, including the Pura Belpre Award, the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. With the Fire on High and Clap When You Land have both won awards and were named the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
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