Andrea Cheng is the author of several critically-acclaimed books for young readers. Her most recent novel, Etched in Clay, tells the story in verse of Dave the Potter, an enslaved man, poet, and master craftsperson whose jars (many of which are inscribed with his poetry and writings) are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery. Etched in Clay recently won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.
When I heard an NPR review of Leonard Todd’s book, Carolina Clay, I knew that Dave’s was a story I wanted to tell. And from the start, I knew that I wanted to tell it in verse. Readers often ask me why. I didn’t make this decision consciously, but subconsciously, I think there were reasons.
The evidence of Dave’s life is fragmentary: pots and shards and bills of sale. This means that each small piece of evidence stands for something more, something much larger than the object itself. For example, the first bill of sale shows that Harvey Drake purchased a teenage boy for six hundred dollars. He was “country born” with “good teeth” and “a straight back. “ (Etched in Clay, p. 7) There is so much sorrow in these few words. A person is being evaluated and then sold like an animal. After a quick transaction, he becomes the property of someone else. The only way I know to allow a reader to feel this sorrow is through the intensity of a poem.