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"In this extraordinary myth cycle, Renato Rosaldo has transformed the story of a death into a multidimensional event made of culturally diverse voices. The poems follow each other, building a tale. Read them aloud. The alchemy of ethnography, narrative, and poetry reassembles an ancient grammar of magic and music. I was swept into an unexpected open space, where telling matters. Anthropologists and poets alike will be inspired and moved."—Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, coeditor of Words in Motion: Toward a Global Lexicon
"Renato Rosaldo's The Day of Shelly’s Death skillfully and gracefully embraces poetry and prose as 'antropoesía.' The collection transports us to a landscape of convergences, a place of life and death matters where an emotional thread connects and binds the past, present, and future, without the hip lingo of avoidance. The Day of Shelly’s Death becomes an inventive, lived trope for our time—not afraid of the human dimension."—Yusef Komunyakaa, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems
"Reading these beautiful poems, I felt a kindred artistic spirit. Renato Rosaldo seamlessly inhabits the perspectives of different people, taking us inside his own disorienting grief and shock on the day of his wife Shelly's death, as well as the reactions of others affected by her tragic accident. Just as his feelings reverberated with those of others on that day, these poems resonate with one another. They continue to resonate long after you've closed the book."—Anna Deavere Smith, actress, writer, and educator
"I was deeply moved by this collection. Renato Rosaldo has ventured into new territory, and done so with admirable grace and courage."—Sandra Cisneros, author of Caramelo, Have You Seen Marie?, and The House on Mango Street
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This deeply moving collection of poetry by Renato Rosaldo focuses on the shock of his wife Michelle (Shelly) Rosaldo's sudden death on October 11, 1981. Just the day before, Shelly and her family had arrived in the northern Philippine village of Mungayang, where she and her husband Renato, both accomplished anthropologists, planned to conduct fieldwork. On October 11, Shelly died after losing her footing and falling some sixty feet from a cliff into a swollen river. Renato Rosaldo explored the relationship between bereavement and rage in his canonical essay, "Grief and a Headhunter's Rage," which first appeared in 1984 and is reprinted here.
In the poems at the heart of this book, he returns to the trauma of Shelly's death through the medium of free verse, maintaining a tight focus on the events of October 11, 1981. He explores not only his own experience of Shelly's death but also the imagined perspectives of many others whose lives intersected with that tragic event and its immediate aftermath, from Shelly herself to the cliff from which she fell, from the two young boys who lost their mother to the strangers who carried and cared for them, from a tricycle taxi driver, to a soldier, to priests and nuns. Photographs taken years earlier, when Renato and Shelly were conducting research across the river valley from Mungayang, add a stark beauty. In a new essay, "Notes on Poetry and Ethnography," Rosaldo explains how and why he came to write the harrowing yet beautiful poems in The Day of Shelly's Death. More than anything else though, the essay is a manifesto in support of what he calls antropoesía, verse with an ethnographic sensibility. The essay clarifies how this book of rare humanity and insight challenges the limits of ethnography as it is usually practiced.