Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem


Book Information

Front Street November 2004
  • Language Arts Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

Requiem:  a noun


  1. (especially in the Roman Catholic Church) a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead.
    • a musical composition setting parts of a requiem Mass, or of a similar character.
    • an act or token of remembrance.

      This requiem honors a slave who died in Connecticut in 1798.  He was owned by a doctor who preserved the slave's bones for medical studies.  The physician's family donated the skeleton to a local museum in 1933. The skeleton hung in the museum until 1970 when it was taken down from display.  

      Then, in 1990, the museum pursued the origins of the skeleton and created a new exhibit to honor the slave.  This led to the commissioning of six poems.  Each poem is written in the voice of someone from the slave, Fortune's, life journey.  His wife, his owner, his descendants, worker and museum visitors lend their voices to celebrating the life of this man.  Each poem faces a page of text that lays out facts describing some part of Fortune's story.

    40 pages          978-1932425123     Grades 7-12    (Ages 12 and up)

    Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


    "For sixth grade, I try to find some texts that challenge their notion of the story both by trying to find texts with complex characters and stories that challenge the traditional story arc.  One short text (a novel in verse) I've had a lot of success with is Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marilyn Nelson.  It's a series of poems and paired non-fiction pieces that explore the life of Fortune, a slave during the American Revolution in Connecticut and is a little edgy in a thought-provoking way but appropriate for sixth grade that also has a website with some interesting background to explore and connect historical fiction and non-fiction._--from NCTE Teaching and Learning Forum, Feb. 2017 -Rich Farrell, Educator, Illinois

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