Book Review: I Wore My Blackest Hair

I wore my blackest hair cover

I Wore My Blackest Hair

Written by Carlina Duan

92 pages

Published by: Little A

Publication date: 14th November 2017

Age range: 14 +

Summary (from Goodreads):

Celebrating Chinese American girlhood in all its confusion, love, and loss.

In I Wore My Blackest Hair, Fulbright grant and Edna Meudt Memorial Award recipient Carlina Duan delivers an electric debut collection of poetry. With defiance and wild joy, Duan’s poems wrestle with and celebrate ancestry and history, racial consciousness, and the growing pains of girlhood. They explore difficult truths with grace and power. I Wore My Blackest Hair is an honest portrait of a woman in-between—identities, places, languages, and desires—and her quest to belong. The speaker is specific in her self-definition, discovering and reinventing what it means to be a bold woman, what it means to be Chinese American, and what it means to grow into adulthood. Duan moves seamlessly from the personal to the imaginative to the universal, heralding a brilliant new voice in contemporary poetry.

my mother

is not from your

country, and I am

her daughter.

don’t ask me

what it’s like

being small

and Chinese.

I requested this from Netgalley on a whim as I am a big supporter of diversity in books – not in a tick-box sense where an author has included all the ‘requisite’ minorities, but in the sense of genuine, own-voice poetry and prose. I probably don’t read as much poetry as I should as I often stick to old favourites rather than discovering new poets, but I always surprise myself with how much I enjoy reading poetry when I do.

This collection deals with Duan’s childhood and coming-of-age, looking at the conflicts and mixture of her Chinese parents’ upbringing and her own experience as someone who looks Chinese but is growing up in America. She aptly talks about the struggle of reconciling her two tongues and identities, how sometimes she is proud and at other times angry at the assumptions of others.

I said, MOM, MOM.

while she called me

I was her American
daughter, my tongue
my hardest muscle
forced to swallow
a muddy alphabet.

What I liked: I believe that every opportunity for another diverse voice to be heard is to be celebrated. This is a challenging, important collection of poems showing an intensely personal view of life as the daughter of Chinese immigrants in America.

Even better if: The poems seemed to be a loose collection of poems written at different times, each reflecting another aspect of Duan’s experiences. While this was interesting and powerful, it did sometimes mean that the narrative seemed a bit muddled. I would have also liked it if some Chinese characters has been included, not just pinyin, but I wonder if this could have been a choice from the author to show that distance from her parent’s native tongue.

How you could use it in your classroom: I would recommend this for secondary rather than primary classrooms, particularly in many classrooms in the U.K. and America where there is a high chance that some, if not many, of the young people in your classroom will be able to relate to Carlina Duan’s experiences as a child of parents who have immigrated and the mixture of cultures and languages which results.


(Thank you to Little A and Netgalley for my digital review copy)

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Fanna says:

    It’s been a long time I haven’t stumbled upon a poetry with genuine immigrant voices reciting it. This one seems like it will be a good addition to it. Loved the review! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you liked it and hope you get a chance to pick up a copy of this book too!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I am always particularly interested in reading perspectives from dual-culture and multilingual people!


  2. LOL, I am small and half Chinese. I think I need to read this book! Thanks so much for sharing at the Multicultural Children’s Book Day link up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you enjoy it if you do manage to track down a copy!


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