Book Bag: ‘My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth’ by Ann Turner; ‘Fishing the Desert’ by Brooks Robards

Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2015


By Ann Turner

Illustrated by James Ransome


Veteran children’s author Ann Turner of Williamsburg has turned to a local and national figure for her latest work, a picture book with limited text for young readers. In “My Name is Truth,” Turner depicts the life of legendary abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who overcame her birth as a slave to become a powerful voice for freedom in the mid-19th century, and who made her home in Florence for much of the 1840s and 1850s.

Turner’s book, illustrated by James Ransome, uses first-person narration to describe how a young slave named Isabella Baumfree, born in New York state in 1797, grew up to be an exceptionally tall and strong woman who “worked hard as a man.” As a young mother of four, she escaped a particularly cruel owner, leaving with her youngest child, then later convinced a New York court to have one of her sons returned to her after he’d been illegally sold.

Later, as a free woman, Isabella began to speak out against slavery, renaming herself Sojourner Truth because “I travel far and long to tell the news of God’s TRUTH.” Turner’s book touches on one of the famous stories from Truth’s later dictated biography, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth” — how, early in her career as a public speaker, she faced down a crowd of rowdy young men at a camp meeting in Massachusetts, gaining greater self-confidence.

The rich illustrations of Ransome help frame the story, particularly the ugliness of slavery. In one picture, young Isabella, whose many brothers and sisters were all sold off to different owners, stands with bowed head amid a flock of sheep as two white farmers haggle over her price.

Turner, the author of over three dozen books, includes a small historical biography of Truth at the end of her new work. And she summarizes Truth’s hard-to-believe tale in eloquent free verse: “Sometimes I sit in amazement / in some fine living room remembering — / I was a slave / working in sweat, beaten, sleeping on hard floors / now I sleep in a real bed and rally others with my fiery words.”


By Brooks Robards

Photographs by Siegfried Halus

Terra Nova Books

Well, you can’t literally fish in the desert — except perhaps at a rare watering hole — but you can find plenty of interesting things there. And in “Fishing the Desert,” Northampton poet Brooks Robards and New Mexico photographer Siegfried Halus combine their talents to explore some of the mysteries of the U.S. Southwest.

Robards, a former magazine journalist and communications professor at Westfield State University, has been visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the past 20 years, drawing particular inspiration for her verse from the changes that mark the region’s passage from winter to spring. In her new book, her poems are mixed with black-and-white photos by Halus, an old friend Robards first met in Connecticut in the late 1960s.

In poems such as “Desert Morning,” Robards evokes the open skies and spaces of the Southwest and the way light dramatically alters the landscape: “Sunrise starts low in maize-colored grasses / where cholla and prickly pear hide. / Sunlight opens up shadows beside junipers / all the way to the mountains / those dark blue sculptures edging the horizon. / Wind pushes dry, brittle chamiso.”

And in what some might consider a barren environment, Robards find a special mix of colors in the desert, on the ground and in the sky. In “Up Close,” she writes of pulsing storm clouds: “So many shades of gray, some white / sheen, and even blue through haze / gentle the edges of the desert. The eye never tires of looking / no words will catch it all.”

In his photographs, meanwhile, Halus probes the edges of landscape and art, from close-ups of ancient petroglyphs to portraits of buttes and craggy clusters of rock. In “Wagon Mound, NM,” two silhouetted figures are framed against fading evening light, with fragments of animal bones in the picture’s foreground. The nighttime image “White Sands, NM” shows the silhouette of a naked man before a strange, wind-carved column of sand topped by a scraggly bush.

“Fishing the Desert,” published by Terra Nova Books of Santa Fe, is also the latest combined project Robards has worked on. Last year, she published “On Island,” a collection of her poems about Martha’s Vineyard that was paired with paintings by Vineyard artist Hermine Hull.


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