Carole Boston Weatherford:
Why Marilyn Monroe?
After spanning the Harlem Renaissance and World War II in verse novels about Billie Holiday and the Tuskegee Airmen, I had arrived at mid-century. In search of my next subject, I saw college students rocking Marilyn Monroe gear as the #MeToo movement rocked Hollywood. The irony made me wonder how much young adults knew about the pop culture icon, why her star never dimmed and how her story speaks to our times.
Teens will identify with Marilyn’s struggles: self-doubt, family dysfunction, economic hardship, mental illness, substance abuse, gender fluidity, and sexual abuse and harassment. Teens will also connect with her style, body confidence and search for herself.
Why a verse novel?
A poet, Marilyn probed her anxieties through verse. From foster care to fame—her life was a poem as dramatic as any movie.
What was your research/creative process?
[Note from Tabatha: Carole has a wonderful video that I couldn't insert but you can visit here]
I read biographies of Marilyn—ones that were narrative and others that collected her mementoes. I approached her story chronologically, consulting various references about the same chapter of her life. Then, I crafted first-person poems to recreate each scene and to evoke her emotions.
What is the book’s premise?
A few months before her death, Marilyn is backstage at Madison Square Garden being sewn into her gown to sing “Happy Birthday” to President John Kennedy. During the lengthy styling, Marilyn reflects on her troubled life and unlikely rise to a Hollywood legend. I grab readers with the first line: “I am nude. . .”
What will surprise readers?
Marilyn sympathized with the civil rights struggle and used her star status to be an ally. For example, she helped her fan crush, singer Ella Fitzgerald, secure a gig at the Mocambo, a Los Angeles nightclub. The club’s owner had declined Fitzgerald due to her race, weight and jazz bent. He booked her, though, after Marilyn agreed to sit at the front table every night of the engagement.
Though typecast as a blonde bombshell, Marilyn was much more: a painter, gardener, avid reader (despite dyslexia), and the brains behind her brand. Bold and ambitious, she was the first woman since the silent film era to start a production company.
Marilyn was perhaps the original influencer. Although she died in 1962, official Marilyn Monroe sites have garnered 14 million Facebook likes and 244,000 Twitter and 1.7 million Instagram followers. Not to mention the countless international fan sites.
What surprised you?
Marilyn owned 430 books, including some that are also in my collection. I devoted a poem in Beauty Mark to her personal library.
What are your personal Marilyn Monroe favorites?
Reference- Marilyn, a massive book from the 2012 Ferragamo Museum exhibition
Photo-Milton Greene’s shot of her in a tutu
Film-Some Like It Hot
Song-“I’m Gonna File My Claim” from River of No Return
Outfit-The white off-shoulder dress she wears on the 1952 Life cover.
Quotation-"A wise girl knows her limits, a smart girl knows that she has none."
Poem in Beauty Mark-“Who is Marilyn Monroe.”
Rave Reviews for Beauty Mark
“This searing, aching love poem to a widely known but often misunderstood icon will speak even to young readers who may not be familiar with her films. A window into a uniquely magnificent and terrifying life.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Weatherford’s intimate writing style will make readers feel like they’re accessing Marilyn’s private journals.”—School Library Journal
“...[E]xquisite page design, meticulously incorporated research, and magnetic subject...”—Booklist
“[A] psychologically nuanced biography...”—School Library Connection
Thank you, Carole, for sharing your compelling new verse novel with us!
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