The Sweet Breath of Life

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The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family
Author Ntozake Shange
Illustrator Kamoinge Inc (photography)
Cover artist Kamoinge Inc.
Genre Poetry
Published 2004, Atria Books
Media type Print, ebook
Pages 192 pages
ISBN 978-0743478977

The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family is a 2004 photographic poetic narrative by Ntozake Shange and the photography collective Kamoinge Inc. The book was first published on October 26, 2004 through Atria Books and was edited by Frank Steward, the president of Kamoinge Inc.[1]


The book depicts the various aspects of everyday urban African-American life through poetic narrative. Through poetic narrative and accompanying photographs, the book deals with various themes such as religion, identity, and representation.[citation needed]

Contributing Photographers[edit]

  • Frank Stewart
  • Anthony Barboza
  • Adger Cowans
  • Gerald Cyrus
  • Louis Draper
  • Albert Fenner
  • Collette Fournier
  • James Francis
  • Steve Martin
  • Toni Parks
  • Herbert Randall
  • Eli Reed
  • Herb Robinson
  • Beuford Smith
  • Ming Smith
  • June Truesdale
  • Budd Williams


Critical reception for The Sweet Breath of Life has been positive and reviewers have compared the work to that of Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava.[2][3][4]

Black Issues Book Review judges some of the photos to be outdated and that some of the poems felt more like journalism than poetry, [clarification needed] but also that when the poems and photography worked together they were "powerfully made" and "breathtaking".[5] Curve rated the book highly, citing the photography as one of the book's highlights.[6] The Tri-State Defender praised the project as "a wonderful blend of words and images that give definition to the beauty and wonder of contemporary African-American culture."[7]


  1. ^ "The Sweet Breath of Life (review)". Library Journal. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Sweet Breath of Life (review)". Booklist. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  3. ^ "THE SWEET BREATH OF LIFE (review)". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  4. ^ Nicosia, Gerald. "Fear not, Ferlinghetti/Poets and poetry are thriving in the Bay Area, as three practitioners' new collections show". SF Gate. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  5. ^ Jones, Patricia Spears (November 2004). "The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family (review)". Black Issues Book Review. 6 (6). Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  6. ^ Voo, Jocelyn (June 1, 2005). "Other page turners.(in the stacks)(Lipstick Jihad)(Book Review)". Curve (subscription required). Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  7. ^ Butler, Tim. "BOOKSCAPE". Tri-State Defender (subscription required). Retrieved May 14, 2014.