AMERICAN STRUGGLE: TEENS RESPOND TO JACOB LAWRENCE
Written by a collective of teens from around the United States
A diverse collection of writings from teens responding to African-American artist Jacob Lawrence’s monumental series of paintings entitled Struggle . . . from the History of the American People.
Six Foot Press
Pub date: 1/10/2020
50 full-color and b&w images
9 x 6” (HxW)
In the mid-1950s, as Brown v. Board of Education felled the ideology of “separate but equal,” the great African-American artist Jacob Lawrence saw the need for a version of American history that reckoned with its complexities and contradictions yet was shared by all its citizens. The result was his monumental work Struggle . . . from the History of the American People. For two years, Lawrence developed the series of thirty panels, each measuring 12 × 16 inches. He created the panels as history you could hold in your hands and intended to reproduce the images in a book that he never realized. The paintings depict signal moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the American republic, and feature the words and actions of founding fathers, enslaved people, women, and Native Americans.
In January 2020, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is mounting the landmark exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle. The show, which unites the panels in one place for the first time in nearly half a century, then travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, on a two-year national tour. For more on the project, see co-curator Dr. Elizabeth Hutton Turner’s article on the series. Images of the panels are available to view here.
In the spirit of Lawrence’s project, Six Foot Press is partnering with PEM to publish a collection of brief interpretive texts written by teens in response to the Struggle series. Our aim is to gather a chorus of thirty singular young adult voices to respond to each of these seminal works. This illustrated YA book will be published to the worldwide book trade to coincide with the January 2020 opening at PEM.
Teen writers associated with the museums hosting the exhibition and area writing centers will contribute nonfiction/memoir works expressing how Lawrence and his Struggle series speak to them on a personal, emotional level. The writers come a broad variety of races and ethnicities, nationalities, religions, genders, sexualities, and abilities. with a particular focus on underrepresented voices. As Jacob Lawrence mined American history to reflect upon events he saw happening around him in segregation-era America, these young adult authors will use these panels to comment on their experiences in today’s America.
The Peabody Essex Museum, founded in 1799 by America’s first global entrepreneurs, is a museum of international art and culture, and holds one of the nation’s major Asian collections. The museum’s mission is to celebrate outstanding artistic and cultural creativity by collecting, stewarding, and interpreting objects of art and culture in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, engage the mind, and stimulate the senses. Visit PEM in Salem, Massachusetts, and at pem.org.
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