The Day of Shelly′s Death

The Poetry and Ethnography of Grief

The Day of Shelly′s Death

Book Pages: 160 Illustrations: 21 photographs, 2 maps Published: December 2013

Author: Renato Rosaldo

Contributor: Jean Franco

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Literature and Literary Studies > Poetry

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.


“This text is revolutionary; it presents another way, a new way of making poetry matter.”
— Juan Felipe Herrera, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Anyone interested in the social sciences could stand to benefit from reading this brief, yet insightful, book as Renato’s poetry shows an innovative way of expressing what is often missing from traditional ethnographies. Finally, the avid reader of poetry find great value in how Rosaldo maximises the emotional impact of the situation with his laconic verse.” — Kyle W. West, Centre for Medical Humanities

"A sophisticated meditation on memory. It’s a meditation that takes for granted the potential of alternative modes of inquiry to investigate the past (modes that square, I should note, with his ethnographic research). . . . Rosaldo laboriously retraces the ground of his research. The same characters we meet in his academic publications reappear, as he skillfully interweaves the narratives of his subjects—mostly Ilongot peoples, mediated more soberly in his scholarly texts—with the sudden shock of grief. Violence hovers in his words." — Luke A. Fidler, Economy

"[A] wise, beautiful, and moving testimony to the power of Rosaldo’s distinctive form of poetic inquiry. It opens salient dimensions of the emotional, social, and political worlds that the family occupied during their two months in the Philippines in 1981. And it provokes deep meditation about life, death, and our connections to one another." — Jane Monnig Atkinson, Anthropological Quarterly

“This is genre-bending in the most meaningful sense of the term, not because the author wanted to explore his subject matter in a variety of genres but because he has expertise in a number of fields, and that expertise very naturally rose to the surface here. Dealing with loss is very much about memory. The Day of Shelly’s Death remembers. And it re-members, that is, it reconnects the pieces of broken, fragmented experience.” — Margaret Randall, World Literature Today

The Day of Shelly’s Death heralds a brave new way to do anthropology, beautiful in its conversational delivery through poetry and complex in its commentary on culture, emotion and personhood.” — Brigitte Lewis, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"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

"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

"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." — Ann Deavere Smith, actress, writer, and educator

"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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Renato Rosaldo is Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and past president of the American Ethnological Society. He is the author of Culture and Truth and Ilongot Headhunting, 1883–1974, as well as two award-winning poetry collections, Diego Luna's Insider Tips and Prayer to Spider Woman/Rezo a la Mujer Araña. This is his first book of antropoesía or "ethnographic poetry."

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Poems vii

Acknowledgments xiii

Foreword / Jean Franco xv

I. The Day of Shelly's Death 1

Notes on Poetry and Ethnography 101

II. Grief and a Headhunter's Rage 115

Index 139
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5661-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5649-3
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