Marilyn Nelson


Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland, Ohio, into a military family: she is the daughter of one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen. Her mother was a teacher. Nelson spent much of her youth living on different military bases and began writing poetry in elementary school. She earned her BA from the University of California at Davis, her MA from the University of Pennsylvania, and her PhD from the University of Minnesota. An accomplished poet and translator, Nelson has also written numerous books for children and young adults. She is a three-time finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the Robert Frost medal, and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors. In 2013, Nelson was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2017, she was recognized with both the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children and the prestigious NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature. In 2019 she was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation. Source

Arachis Hypogaea

Great Creator, why

did you make the peanut?



Arachis Hypogaea may have been

smuggled to North America by slaves

who hid seeds of survival in their hair.

Despite your nakedness, the chains, the stench,

if white men did not eat you, you might come

to a cruel land where, tended by moonlight

and exhaustion, your seed might grow to be

your children's manna in the wilderness.


Arachis Hypogaea, or goober,

an annual preferring warmth and sun,

is an attractive plant, resembling clover.

It bears flowers of two distinct genders:

the staminate, or “male,” yellow, pretty,

and the inconspicuous pistillate “female.”

When fertilized, the pistillate turns down 

and corkscrews six inches into the ground.


Each corkscrew, called a “peg,” grows one to four

peanuts in the soil near the mother plant;

each shell two of her shots at infinity.

From the laboratory of a slave emerged

a varied, balanced diet for the poor,

stock foods, ink, paints, cosmetics, medicines ...

Promise and purpose, the Ancestors' dream.

“The Peanut Man,” we say, and laugh at him.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:



Memory & The Past

Racial Injustice

Literary Devices:


an exclamatory passage in a speech or poem addressed to a person (typically one who is dead or absent) or thing (typically one that is personified)


conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie


a literary device that is used in narratives to omit some parts of a sentence or event, which gives the reader a chance to fill the gaps while acting or reading it out.


a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing