Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons
By Ann Rinaldi
There are certain historical figures who dominate the spotlight—how many novels have been written about Shakespeare, for example? And then there are those figures who exist in the general memory, but vaguely, without any spark of energy. Phyllis Wheatley is one of those people.
You’d think there would be more attention given to the first black woman to publish original poetry, but I’ve not seen any other novels besides Ann Rinaldi’s. However, when you have Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, you really don’t need anything else.
I’ve always wanted to write an intense novel about Emily Dickinson, and the way Rinaldi handles Phyllis’s story is exactly how I would love to treat Dickinson’s. Her writing is superb, just right for historical fiction of this type. She does a wonderful job putting flesh on a woman that no one knows very much about.
I was rather disappointed with her opinion of Phyllis’s poetry, however. Only a few lines are included in the novel, and Rinaldi’s endnote excuses this by saying Phyllis wrote in the style of her day, which was so overdone and flowery that no modern reader would enjoy it. Isn’t that sort of shooting yourself in the foot? Rinaldi breathes life into a forgotten heroine, and then dismisses the very accomplishments that brought her distinction. I thought that was rather odd, but since it’s in the author’s note, and not in the text itself, it shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of the story.