line, she can’t hold back the tears of fear,
disappointment, and homesickness. One
at a time, every young woman in the class
hugs and comforts her.
“There is so much tenderness here,
and these girls are making a community,
making a family between them even
though they may have only been around
each other a couple of weeks,” says Daniels
Taylor, with clear affection in her voice.
Her engaging lyrical voice enchants the
reader with every turn of the page:
“I dream goals,
gleaming glittering glowing.
I dream spirit building,
With pens, with pencils,
I’m writing my dreams on fire.”
But there is also a rawness within
those beautiful lines that doesn’t let the
reader escape the realities of Shanequa’s
life at home:
“Garbage truck wake-up alarm
we’re still home alone.
Grandma’s key unlocks our door.
School called. Dropped a dime to Social
Court took Mama’s
parent rights away.”
This dose of reality appeals to
seventeen-year-old Nichols School student
Tahynnis Newsome who appreciates the
“very down to earth and very real” writing
in Dreams on Fire.
“She puts her characters in realistic
situations and then comes up with very
real consequences,” says Newsome.
“Reading Dreams on Fire opens up some
of the potential situations you may
Educators agree with Newsome’s
assessment of Daniels Taylor’s book. Carey
Miller, an English and history teacher at
Buffalo Seminary, thinks Dreams on Fire
is the book young women in Buffalo need
right now. “They need books to reflect
their lived and imagined experiences.
Books that feel authentic to their age,
community, gender, race, culture,
socioeconomic status, etc. Narratives
surrounding private schools don’t need
to be about boys, horseback riding, and
fashion. We’re done with that. Taylor’s
story of Shanequa Oni Stephens is a richer
tale, one of strong people who have just
as much desire and need for better lives
than literature’s stock characters but are
trapped by outside forces who provide
larger than life obstacles at every step.
Through Shanequa, Taylor provides the
reader a crystal clear photo of the ugly
reality of systemic racism. Those who
don’t have this lived experience need it
even more than those who recognize it all
Esther Annan, a social worker with
Erie County Youth Detention Center and
one of the current executive directors at
Say Yes Buffalo, is the inspiration for a
social worker who appears in the story.
She feels hopeful after reading Dreams
on Fire and believes that Shanequa is the
perfect example of resiliency in the face of
adversity. “Dreams on Fire is an important
book, because it teaches lessons of faith,
perseverance, resilience, and belief in one’s
ability to overcome,” she notes.
Dreams on Fire, which was recently
named a Junior Library Guild selection,
is Daniels Taylor’s fourth book, and she
is currently working on a sequel. She is
an Arthur A. Schomburg fellow with the
University at Buffalo’s Department of
Media Study and was recently awarded
a New York State Public Humanities
fellowship in support of her efforts
to develop an Underground Railroad
sound-walk through Buffalo’s fifteen
Underground Railroad sites.
Learn more about Dreams on Fire at
annettedanielstaylor.com. P H