It’s always nice to have a personal connection with the authors and illustrators we feature on The Brown Bookshelf. As much as we admire them, it reminds our readers and the BBS’s bloggers that they could be living on the next block or the person in front of us in the grocery self-service line.
I met Quraysh Ali Lansana at a creative writing workshop he organized at the Ralph Ellison Library for the citizens of Oklahoma City. At the time, he was a Red Earth MFA Creative Writing Faculty Mentor at Oklahoma City University. The creative writing workshops at Ralph Ellison Library are still going strong. Currently, Quraysh is He is a faculty member of the Creative Writing Program of the School of
the Art Institute of Chicago.
The other half of the collaboration is artist, Skip Hill. I have known of Skip’s work ever since he designed t-shirts for the Parkview Pioneers, our neighborhood elementary school. He also painted a mural for Parkview. Since then his career has exploded. He’s a traveler, sharing his work all over the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, North Africa, and Oklahoma City of course.
A Gift from Greensboro is a poem that refers to the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins in 1960. Quraysh uses that as a backdrop while sharing the magic of a childhood friendship and adventure growing up in Enid, Oklahoma in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement’s sit-ins.
Thoughts From the Author . . . Quraysh Ali Lansana
A Gift from Greensboro is an adaptation of an autobiographical narrative poem originally titled “the woolworth’s poem,” which appeared in my first full-length book of poetry, Southside Rain. Though the book version is based on the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, widely regarded as the setting for the Sit-In Movement, the lunch counter my childhood best friend Russ Hutchison and I integrated was in our small hometown of Enid, Oklahoma. I use integrated loosely, as we ate cheeseburgers and milkshakes in 1975, eleven years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But Oklahoma, like many states, didn’t comply with the law right away and many Okies didn’t co-sign the legislation at all.
The Sooner State possesses a compelling and complicated history regarding race relations. Pre- statehood, this “unchartered territory” served as both the point of origin and the repository for the earliest, largest ethnic cleansing actions in the nation’s history. Politicians, in the late 1800s, voted on this land functioning as the home for all freed Africans formerly held in the bondage of chattel slavery. The first law passed in the Oklahoma Legislature, Senate Bill #1, made Oklahoma a Jim Crow state, in direct defiance of President Theodore Roosevelt. The destruction of Black Wall Street, more commonly known as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, is among the earliest government sanctioned bombings on US soil.
All of this history and disdain remains in the red dirt, the big sky, and many of the people. This is where I grew up, meeting Russ after my elementary school was closed due to desegregation. The bond we forged for over thirty years was also an act of defiance. Love, kindness, and respect are revolutionary acts. We need to remember these truths as much in 2017 as we did in 1975, 1965, 1955…
—Quraysh Ali Lansana, Author
Thoughts From the Illustrator . . . Skip Hill
The most compelling experience in producing the illustrations for a gift from greensboro was how the process opened the door for me to explore memory, time, and place. The author, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and I are of the same generation. Both of us grew up in Oklahoma. We both came of age and awareness of our complicated place in a post-Civil Rights United States with the country’s moves towards integration of public schools. In that process, in often tense environments, some of us managed to reach out, cross bridges, break through entrenched attitudes and form warm friendships undaunted by our parents’ or society’s disapproval. My memories of that era and those friendships (many of which I maintain forty years later) inform every drawing. The biggest challenge for an artist who relishes color, was to produce the illustrations in black & white.
Thematically, it was a thoughtful decision for a book indirectly addressing Race in America. The publishers forwarded an image of mine they had seen earlier, which featured a more loose figurative style with scratchy line work and squiggly shading. This style formed the foundation of the finished illustrations you see in the book. As the art process progressed, it was decided to add spot color for contrast on each page, and then to add several full color pages as a contrast within the entire book. Where I could, I managed to introduce my favorite birds motif to align this project with my signature art style.
—Skip Hill, Artist
See more of Skip Hill’s work on his website Skip Hill Art.
Posted by Gwendolyn Hooks