Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life

August Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor's Life cover
Augusta Savage: The Shape of a Sculptor’s Life by Marilyn Nelson

By Marilyn Nelson
Christy Ottaviano Books / Little, Brown, 2022
114 pages

Ages 12 and older

A biography written in free verse and concrete poems details the life and work of Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage, best known for creating The Harp for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Born Augusta Fells in Florida in 1982, Augusta had a difficult childhood. Her father tried to beat the artist out of her when he caught her making clay figurines in the backyard, claiming they were “graven images” that offended God. Augusta bore a child when she was still a child herself, only 15; her first husband died soon afterward. She pursued her creative interests in art school in New York City, but the scholarship she was offered to study art in France was rescinded when the selection committee learned that she was Black. But her work—sculptures that stunningly depicted Black life and culture—brought her recognition, and she opened the Harlem Art Workshop and the Harlem Community Art Center. She took a year off to create her masterpiece, The Harp (“Could I sculpt black love triumphant as a black harp? / How? Twelve strings? And each harp string a child? / Each child individual, a recognizable singing self”). Though it was hugely popular at the Fair, Augusta could not afford to cast the sculpture in bronze to preserve it, and so it was destroyed. This beautifully written account includes ample photographs of Augusta and her incredible art. ©2023 Cooperative Children’s Book Center