Write Around PAM: Elizabeth Catlett

For My People, Elizabeth Catlett, 1992, two portrait oriented lithograph scenes from illustrated book. 15 ¾” x 13 ⅙”. The first has a gray background with areas of darker gray and lighter bubble-like spheres at the top. In the middle a Black individual with short black hair, large hoop earrings, a bright loose fitting white shirt, bright pink blazer, turquoise skirt, and black flat shoes dances with hands raised. Three figures shaded in gray surround the dancing figure. On the left, a Black adult wears a hat with a round brim, a blazer, a skirt, and flat dress shoes and has raised hands and an open mouth. Below, a young Black child with short hair wears a t-shirt, loose pants rolled at the bottom, and dress shoes while sitting on a step, leaning back and looking downward. On the right, an older Black individual with short hair and a goatee wears a flat brimmed hat, jacket, pants that are loose at the knees, and dress shoes and holds a small flask in the left hand. The middle figure is layered over the top of the edge of the other figures. The second lithograph has a tan background with a textured pattern resembling dust clouds. Two Black children fill the frame playing with a red ball. The child on the left is taller, has black hair pulled into three ponytails and wears a dark blue dress with large light blue spots. The child's left hand is raised, right hand is reaching downward towards the ball, bare feet are set apart, and the child’s face has a gentle smile with eyes and lips closed. The child on the right is shorter, standing one foot in front of the other, and has both hands outstretched towards the ball. The child has short dark hair and is wearing a blue and white striped shirt, a teal vest, a white undershirt, and yellow pants. The child’s eyes are closed and eyebrows are furrowed.

Elizabeth Catlett created these lithographs in honor of Margaret Walker’s seminal poem “For My People.” Rather than illustrating the poem literally, Catlett transforms Walker’s powerful words about Black experience into iconic images. Together, Catlett’s words and Walker’s text explore hope and despair, as well as the simple joys of life. Writing and visual art so often inspire one another. We invite you to see what these pieces inspire in you. 

First, read “For My People” by Margaret Walker. Find a line in the piece that speaks to you and use it as a prompt for your own writing.

We also have two prompts here. As always, you can choose one, both, or write whatever else comes. Just set a timer for 10 minutes and keep your pen moving.

My favorite childhood game… / I dance because…  

Writing in community is powerful. We are grateful to our longtime partner Write Around Portland for the writing prompts and inspiration. You can revisit past Sunday posts and look for continuing weekly posts through the winter. Please share your work with us! @writearoundpdx @portlandartmuseum #RespectWritingCommunity #WriteAroundPAM 

Elizabeth Catlett, For My People, 1992, illustrated book of six lithographs with text by Maragaret Walker; bound in imported red Japanese linen over heavy boards, housed in a cloth-covered clamshell box, The Carol and Seymour Haber Collection, © Artists Rights Society, 2008.73.9a,b

Related Content