By Dr. Jessie Fields
“I Am Abraham”, are the first written words (he wrote them in the sand) of Abraham Lincoln, who would go on to write some of the most historically resonant speeches and documents of American democracy up to and during the Civil War. For Lincoln, as the son of a poor farmer who had very little formal education, the very act of learning to read and write signified aspiration beyond the circumstances into which he was born.
I have always been intrigued by the role that learning to read and write has played historically. Slaves were forbidden to learn to read or write.
Frederick Douglass, born a slave, as a child did manage to learn to read and write by giving pieces of bread to poor white children in exchange for their teaching him words. He like Lincoln would go on to become a brilliant writer.
Reading has played a big role in my own life. As a child my mother, who grew up very poor and was not able to finish high school, instructed me never to read fiction. I had to read only what was “true”. As a result in grade school I read biographies of great American presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, which were in the school library. I did also joyfully find a book about Harriet Tubman. So I grew up with a tendency to read nonfiction almost exclusively. Even today I rarely read novels.
At first reading the novel I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn, our current selection for the Cathy L. Stewart Politics for the People Book Club, was difficult for me. I am a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, having long admired his writing and his commitment to stand firm on the Emancipation Proclamation. In the novel Jerome Charyn touches this American icon. Following the urging of Cathy Stewart who advised me to relax and “let go” in reading the novel, I am actually enjoying the book. It is in fact very much about the love affair of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln. I also appreciate the effort to convey personal and intimate details of some very momentous events in our shared American story. Enjoy your reading of Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham.
Jessie Fields is a physician in Harlem and a founder of the NYC Independence Party. She serves on boards of Open Primaries and the All Stars Project.
One thought on “Learning to Read Fiction”
When I heard that our next Politics for the People book selection would
be “I am Abraham” and that it was historic fiction, I was so pleased!
This is my favorite genre with “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens being my all time favorite book.
“I am Abraham” is an incredible achievement by author Jerome Charyn. It reads like a novel, appears to be Lincoln’s autobiography, and gives an historical account of the ways of life and events during the mid 1800s. The early chapters are a lot of fun and place the reader back in the days of the “Wild, Wild West”, introducing interesting characters and
providing quite graphic descriptions of life at that time and place in history.
Never having read anything about Abraham Lincoln except what is
generally known about him with limited facts taught years ago in
school, this book was a revelation to me! It felt almost disrespectful
at first to get a glimpse into his innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires. We have the opportunity to see Lincoln as a man in addition
to being our president during the Civil War.
This month’s Politics for the People conference call with Mr. Charyn
will be fascinating and I am so looking forward to it.