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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Collection Connections > Born in Slavery

[Detail] Bill and Ellen Thomas, Ages 88 and 81

Choosing a Title

Choosing a title for a book or story is an important part of the writing task. A title serves two functions: it draws the reader into the book or story and it informs readers what the book or story is about.  Some of the ways writers draw readers through the title are using wit, juxtaposing unusual ideas, or selecting a meaningful phrase or quote from the book as the title. Often, a good title raises some questions in the readers’ mind. A 1945 book featuring narratives from the collection was titled Lay My Burden Down, which was also the title of a spiritual sung by slaves. Another book that drew on the narratives was titled From Sundown to Sunup. What questions does this title raise in your mind?

Sometimes an interesting title may not be particularly informative. Often, more information is provided through a subtitle, presented after the main title. Consider the title of this collection, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1938.  The first part of the title draws the reader in, raising the questions of who was born in slavery and whether they lived in slavery as well. The second part of the title is descriptive, telling the reader what is in the collection.

Read the narrative of Tempie Cummins. Imagine that you were working on a book that would include this narrative. What title would you give the narrative? Why do you think this would be a good title? Would you need a subtitle? If so, what subtitle would you give the narrative?