Make your own free website on
Home | Poet Study: Janet S. Wong | Poetry Module 1: The Poetry Environment | Poetry Module 2: Major Poets | Poetry Module 3: Poetry Performance | Poetry Module 4: Poetry Across the Curriculum | Poetry Module 5: Multicultural Poetry | Poetry Module 6: Responding to Poetry | NonFiction | Historical Fiction & Biography | Fiction/Fantasy & YA | Author Study | Poetry | Picture Book | Traditional Literature | Poetry Bibliography

The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Poetry Book Review

Shange, Ntozake. 2004. ellington was not a street. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689828845


 Ntozake Shange, (nee Paulette Williams) uses her poem, Mood Indigo (from A Daughter’s Geography, 1983), as a narrative in ellington was not a street, to pay homage to a group of African-American men who made significant contributions to 20th century culture. These men include: Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Kwame Nkrumah. When she was a child, these men frequently visited Shange’s home.  The poem, told through Shange’s juvenile eyes, features her in each illustration as a wide eyed little girl. The free verse prose is written without any capital letters or punctuation. Flowing without restraint, the book begins with…

it hasnt always been this way

ellington was not a street

robeson no mere memory

du bois walked up my fathers stairs

hummed some tune over me

sleeping in the company of men

who changed the world



Shange, a professor of drama and English at the University of Florida at Gainesville is also the author of for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which won the Obie Award for Best Drama and the Outer Circle Critics Award and received Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award nominations, and the picture book Float Like a Butterfly, as well as many other plays, poetry collections and novels.


The Booklist review states, “The evocative words are more than matched by Nelson’s thrilling, oversize oil paintings, a cross between family photo album and stage set, featuring this group of extraordinary men interacting—playing cards, singing, discussing.”


The illustrations are done by Kadir Nelson using his signature style oil paintings. Nelson also illustrated Jerdine Nolen’s Coretta Scott King Honor Book Thunder Rose and Deloris and Roslyn Jordan’s bestseller Salt in his Shoes about basketball great Michael Jordan. Nelson won a NAACP Image Award for the illustrations in Will Smith’s Just the Two of Us. With the exquisite double page spreads of finely detailed, richly hued oil paintings, ellington was not a street is not only a tribute to these outstanding African-American men but also a work of art.


Mary N. Olunonye, reviewer for School Library Journal, states, “Done in oils, the skillfully rendered portraits emphasize facial expressions, clothing, and physical positioning on the page, and provide unmistakable insight into the persona of each individual.”


The end of the book features brief biographies on these famous men, possibly leading to further reading and research. Publishers Weekly recommends the book, “…truly a book for all ages, lovely to behold and designed to be revisited.”


Ntozake Shange' honors include; an NEA Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Medal of Excellence from Columbia University and the City of Philadelphia Artist's Award.





Cooper, Ilene. 2004. ellington was not a street. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. (book review). Booklist. February 15, 2004.


Oluonye, Mary N. 2003.  ellington was not a street. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. (book review). School Library Journal. January 1, 2004.


Publishers Weekly. 2003. ellington was not a street. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. (book review). Publishers Weekly. December 22, 2003.


Shange, Ntozake. 2004. ellington was not a street. Ill. by Kadir Nelson. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689828845




Website, available at


Website, available at,




Click on the following link to proceed to the next poetry break.