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An award-winning author presents a portrait of Black America in the nineteenth century

Over the course of two decades, award-winning poet Patricia Smith has amassed a collection of rare nineteenth-century photographs of Black men, women, and children who, in these pages, regard us from the staggering distance of time.

Unshuttered is a vessel for the voices of their incendiary and critical era. Smith’s searing stanzas and revelatory language imbue the subjects of the photos with dynamism and revived urgency while she explores how her own past of triumphs and losses is linked inextricably to their long-ago lives:

We ache for fiction etched in black and white. Our eyes never touch. These tragic grays and bustles, mourners’
hats plopped high upon our tamed but tangled crowns, strain to disguise what yearning does with us.

The poet’s unrivaled dexterity with dramatic monologue and poetic form reanimates these countenances, staring back from such yesterdays, and the stories they may have told. This is one of American literature’s finest wordsmiths doing what she does best—unreeling history to find its fierce and formidable lyric.