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Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  154 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
There is a skeleton in the Mattatuck Museum in Connecticut. It has been in the town for over 200 years. In 1996, community members decided to find out what they could about it. Historians discovered that the bones were those of a slave name Fortune, who was owned by a local doctor. After Fortune's death, the doctor rendered the bones. Further research revealed that Fortune ...more
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Front Street, Incorporated
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(showing 1-30 of 267)
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Michelle Pegram
The story behind this book is a fascinating, and disturbing, piece of American history. After his death in 1798, Fortune, slave to a medical Dr. named Preserved Porter, suffered the final mistreatment of his life. Dr. Porter rendered his bones and used them to create a reference and teaching skeleton that stayed in the family, many of whom also became doctors, for years. In 1933, Fortune's skeleton, identity unknown, was donated to the Mattatuck Museum by a member of the Porter family. After dec ...more
Sep 22, 2010 Kim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: verse-poetry
This work of poetry tells the history of a slave named Fortune and his skeleton. The book begins with definitions, an author’s note, and preface; it concludes with an afterword, and notes and sources. Within the text, the pages are laid out with a poem on the right, and visuals followed by notes and annotations on the left. The visuals include maps; photographs of family members, silk embroidery, notebook pages, and Fortune’s bones; traced silhouettes; and paintings. The poems present the differ ...more
wide reading for CI546

grade level: high school -- b/c of difficulty of language & imagery

genre: poetry with some historical illustrations and explanations

themes: slavery, family, ownership (of even one's bones), freedom, oppression, perspective

cultures: african-american

school use: Some of the vocabulary and imagery in this book is fairly high level. I'm student teaching with 7th/8th graders right now and I think a lot of it would go right over their heads. Maybe later high school grades woul
Julie Suzanne
Jan 19, 2016 Julie Suzanne rated it really liked it
What a bizarre little book. What a bizarre subject. I loved it. I learned about a physician (bonesetter) who "dissected" his slave and hung his entire skeleton in a room in the house. The slave's poor wife had to dust his bones off because the plantation owner's wife (the wife of the doctor) was creeped out by it. You learn a fascinating but grim true story in prose juxtaposed with a poem's narrated from various perspectives: the slave wife, the doctor, the slave himself, etc. The poetry was in ...more
Katie Carson
Oct 12, 2009 Katie Carson rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
One of the most unique poetry collections I've read, the Manumission Requiem is a collection of poems, as well as historical information, written in the form of a requiem, words and music written to honor the dead. With the words written with the intent to put them to music, rhythm is obviously very important within these poems.
My favorite part about this collection was the shift in perspective of the narrator. The most powerful was the insight given by the widow of the man whose skeleton was be

This is an amazing funeral song, inspired by the compelling story of a man - Fortune - whose story as an enslaved African did not end when he died in 1798. I found this story to be quite sad. The author writes in her preface that Fortune was "freed" from slavery when he died, but I do not see it that way at all. He was not given to his family for burial, hell he was not even buried. Some of the information revealed in this story just straight up made me angry. The wife of Dr. Porter inhe
Published in 2004 by Hand Print.
Interest Level: 7th-12th Grade

This book of poetry is based on extensive research about a slave named Fortune, his circumstances, and family. Each page of poetry is accompanied by photographs, documents, and first-hand accounts relevant to Fortune's life. It is written in a fashion that is supposed to be construed as a "Manumission Requiem". The endpapers signify the musical nature of this composition and an author's note describes what a requiem is and how Nelson
Paul Mirek
Apr 25, 2014 Paul Mirek rated it really liked it
This slim but affecting volume details an uncommon story: one man's life, death, transformation into artifact, and eventual revitalization. It's structured as a funeral requiem, but there's so much life on each page that the overall effect is joyous. There's also a significant amount of attention due to the physical design of the book, which is fitting given the physicality of its occupants. Each section is accompanied by photos and historical annotations that bring Nelson's words into sharper f ...more
Apr 18, 2016 Mary rated it it was amazing
This book is a poem with history on alternating pages. The slave, Fortune, died and his bones came to be on display in a museum. Only after times had changed and the museum removed it from exhibit did a history of this man come to be. His fascinating life was only surpassed in the manner that his bones were finally laid to rest with a full church ceremony in 2013.
Katy Bellamy
Jan 27, 2016 Katy Bellamy rated it it was ok
This book is only 31 pages long and is a poetry book. It is a little confusing but it is about a slave's body that is preserved and passed down for many years in the Porter family and then is sent away to a museum and a certain group of people are wondering if the body should be buried or kept up for display.
Oct 29, 2011 Toni rated it really liked it
Short, but very powerful. This requiem honors a slave who died in Connecticut in 1798. His owner, a doctor, dissected his body, boiling down his bones to preserve them for anatomy studies. The skeleton was lost and rediscovered, then hung in a local museum until 1970, when it was removed from display. A preface lays out the facts of Fortune's life, followed by "Dinah's Lament," in which his wife mourns the husband whose bones she is ordered to dust. Other pieces are in the voices of Fortune's ow ...more
A really cool book about a skeleton known for years as "Larry" to visitors of the mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut. Research revealed that the skeleton belonged to a slave named Fortune. This book combines poetry, art, and even music to tell the story of Fortune's bones.
Melissa Mcavoy
Remarkable poetic and text examination of the life and skeletal preservation if Fortune: an African American man and slave.
Jesse Beynon
Apr 02, 2012 Jesse Beynon rated it it was ok
This is a story about a man named Fortune who is at one point a slave but purchases his freedom. In some sort of accident, he breaks his neck and dies. A local doctor ends up using his body and preserves his bones for scientific and anatomical purposes. There's still a debate today whether this is moral or not regarding his ties to slavery and race.

There are graphic bodily preparations described in detail that could be disturbing (The descriptions served two purposes: to show the emotional effec
Sheri Day
I also was fortunate to attend the production of the requiem. It was beautiful and moving.
Jan 13, 2009 Dee rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It's brief, maybe 8 poems commissioned by the state of CT to honor Fortune, a slave to a doctor who boiled Fortune to his bones when he died to use for medical study. The bones existed for two neglected centuries in CT until the state created a museum and this requiem mass. It's simply beautiful and at the same time so moving about the terror of being so enslaved that even your bones are not your own. It's appropriate for kids who are mayb ...more
May 25, 2016 Adrienne rated it liked it
Shelves: teen, poetry
The Mattatuck Museum in Connecticut is home to 200 year old skeleton. For many years, no one knew whose skeleton is was; however, after some research, they discovered that it was the skeleton of Fortune, a slave owned by local doctor, Preserved Porter. Through poetry as well as historical sidebars, Marilyn Nelson helps give Fortune an identity, providing details about his life as well as about his skeleton after his death. An interesting and original piece of literature, it's also one worth chec ...more
Sep 16, 2011 Chandra rated it really liked it
A little creepy but powerful and moving story of a slave owned by a doctor who specialized in the setting of broken bones. At the death of this slave, the Dr. "took apart the body". Several generations of the doctor's family used the slaves' bones to study as their early medical training.

"Herewith begins my dissection of
the former body of my former slave,
which served him who served me throughout his life,
and now serves the advance of science."
Paul  Hankins
With a focus on traditional requiem form, Marilyn Nelson (CARVER, A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL) weaves a reverent as well as jubilant look at the life of a former slave named Fortune. So much to celebrate in Nelson's verse here, but "These are not my bones" is a piece not to be missed. This is a prime example of what poetry could do in the secondary American History classroom.
Interesting way to give tribute and memorial to a man who helped make advances in medicine. Some actual photos and some copies of documents and portraits. Makes you feel sorry that his bones couldn't rest in peace, but you admire hime for the contributions he made and the care the family took. Coretta Scott King Author Honor book.
Dec 02, 2009 Mallory rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, award-winners
This book of poetry is based on a true story about a Connecticut slave named Fortune. His owner, Dr. Porter, used Fortune's skeleton for experiments and scientific studies. This is a beautiful example of poetry written with several different speakers sharing parts of the same story.
Stacey M
Dec 27, 2015 Stacey M rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013, young-adult, poetry
I really enjoyed this book. I love poetry so I was interested to see what this book was like. I do think the combination of facts about fortune and the poems really work well together. I think this is a great book for middle school and higher because of the content and vocabulary.
Nov 26, 2007 Timothy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: gall' darned everyone
Here's one of my rules of thumb when it comes to books: if it makes me weep, it's good. "Dinah's Lament", on page 15, is perfect and soul crushing.

If Fortune's Bones doesn't make you weep, please contact your health care provider; you may have a serious heart condition.

Oct 13, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it
Interesting read about a slave named Fortune in the 18th century. More information is found here: This is a short read, but really interesting. We are hoping to bring a project surrounding this to ASU.
Jul 06, 2011 Gilda rated it really liked it
"You are not your body, you are not your bones. What's essential about you is what cannot be owned."

Beautiful book, compelling story. The juxtaposition between facts and poems to tell Fortune's story was well done and clever.
Mar 24, 2010 Vivian rated it it was amazing
I used this book as mentor text with some figh school students. Two pieces are etched in memory..."I am not my deadbeat dad" and "I am not my weight." it is a unique poetry format,
Dec 19, 2007 Melody rated it really liked it
Powerful and spare poems written around the story of Fortune, a doctor's slave, who was rendered after his death into a skeleton used by the family and students for anatomy study.
Aug 03, 2011 Renae rated it liked it
Interesting and powerful. Short, but powerful.

Students of music and/or African-American history should check this out.
Jun 07, 2007 Fawn rated it it was amazing
yet another by my mother. i liked this one better than 'carver,' although it was written around the same time.
Feb 02, 2012 Emily rated it liked it
I didn't think the poetry was that great, but the non fiction element was, as was the topic.
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Marilyn Nelson is the author of many acclaimed books for young people and adults, including CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS, a Newbery Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, a Printz Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book. She also translated THE LADDER, a picture book by Halfdan Rasmussen. She lives in East Haddam, Connecticut.

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“Since she seen Fortune head in that big pot Miss Lydia say that room make her feel ill, sick with the thought of boiling human broth. I wonder how she think it make me feel?

To dust the hands what use to stroke my breast; to dust the arms what hold me when I cried; to dust where his soft lips were and his chest what curved its warm against my back at night.

From the poem "Dinah's Lament" (15)”
More quotes…