Day 28: Eric Velasquez

February 28, 2017

ericvelasquez42ndnaacpimageawardsredwyi8pkrnfbul It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’ve been working all day on a spread from my upcoming graphic novel. If I can just finish this one last panel, I can go to sleep. I look at the hand on one of the characters, it’s not great, but it’ll do. As I get ready to turn off my monitor, I hear a voice, much like Luke Skywalker did in the original Star Wars. But my voice isn’t telling me to “use the force,”  nor is it coming from Obi Wan Kenobi. The voice belongs to Eric Velasquez.

“Luke. Stop being so lazy and fix that hand!”

Sigh … So I do.

That’s why, when we chose to do our inspiration for the final week of 28 Day Later, he was the first person who I thought of.

Eric Velasquez, the son of Afro-Puerto Rican parents, was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Harlem. His dual heritage coupled with the experience of living in dual cultures in New York City gives Eric a rich and unique cultural perspective. He did his first picture book, “The Piano Man,” in 1997 and has completed more than 30 others in the two decades that have followed. He has won many awards including the Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe New Talent Award and is the only person ever to win both an NAACP Image Award and a Pura Belpre Award.

But to find out even more about my friend of 20 years, I decided to have a conversation the way that most of them have been over the years. Over burgers.

Jerry Craft: Okay, let’s start with the project that you’re working on now, a biography of Arturo Schomburg. Tell us about it.

Eric Velasquez: Sure, the title is “Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library,” by Carole Boston Weatherford. I first became intrigued by  this amazing individual in the 3rd grade.  Not only did he look like me, but he also came from the same part of Puerto Rico as my grandmother. He was a superior intellectual who is single-handedly responsible for the African/ African-American artifacts in the collection at the Schomburg Library and Research Center located in Harlem. I pitched the idea to Carole about 10 years ago, and asked her to write the  manuscript. It has been a long process but I am ecstatic that it will finally see the light of day. I just completed the last painting for the project about a month ago and it will be published by Candlewick in the fall of 2017.

schomburg_hj_us_revfinalartJC: Okay, so here’s why I brought that up, specifically the painting you did for the cover of Mr. Schomburg carrying the stack of books. When you showed it to me, it was great.

EV: Yeah, but there was something about his stride that bothered me.

JC: I remember, I think we decided that it should be a little wider. But instead of just fixing that, what did you do?

EV: I started from scratch and did the whole thing over. Even though I had already spent eight hours on the original. And I was much more pleased with the results.

JC: I’ve always thought that one of my strengths is the ability to focus on a project, but you make me feel like a slacker. How do you maintain that?

EV: When I’m working on a book,  everything I’m about relates to that book. Even if I’m watching TV, I’ll pause a movie to examine how a shot or a camera angle will help to improve my work.

JC: I always use the Obi Wan analogy when I talk about you. Who is your Obi Wan Kenobi?

EV:  Tom Feelings is my own Obi Wan. He’s the one who changed the paradigm for me. I remember having a conversation with him and he asked me if I had ever done a drawing and, for seemingly no reason, erased it; or painted over a picture and started from scratch. I told him yes.

pianoman“How did the next version turn out?, he asked. “Usually 10 times better,” I responded.

“Exactly! Whenever that happens, it’s the voice of the ancestors telling you what to do,” he said. “All you have to do is just listen!”

I never forgot that.

JC: Do you have another story when  you started from scratch?

EV: Hundreds! I remember when I was asked by a publisher to send them a painting for them to display at a conference  — and somehow it went missing. All I had was a copy of the original pencil under-drawing that I had used to create it. But although the painting was lost, what I had inside of me that I used to create that painting, was not lost. That was all me. So I recreated it.

JC: Weren’t you afraid that it wouldn’t come out as good?

EV: Fear is a construct. It’s just a hurdle to leap over, and I chose to do it. What artists have to realize is if you do something good once,  it’s not a lucky shot. If you did it once, you can do it again.

JC: So one of the things, or I should say ANOTHER of the reasons why you inspire me to be better is that you never let me off easy with anything. I think that every artist or writer should have someone who is not afraid to tell them the truth. Remember when I told you that I never liked drawing cars? What did you tell me?

velasquez-eric-looking-for-bongoEV: To draw a hundred of them until you liked the result.

JC: Once again, the answer got on my nerves, BUT I’m already seeing the results.

EV: See? One of the things that I always ask my students is, “Why not make yourself into the artist that you like?

JC: By students, you mean from your Book Illustration class at FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC). How long have you taught there?

EV: 14 years.

JC: Now elaborate on the message that you shared with them.

EV: Well, my students come into class all the time showing me work from artists they admire. “Professor, look at how he paints trees,” or “Professor, look at how she does faces, I could never do that.” But I tell them, if that’s what you like, then strive to become that person. My goal as an artist has always been, that if I didn’t know who I was, and I saw one of my paintings, what would I think? If I can step back and look at my work and say “wow!” then I know I’ve done my job.

And isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

JC: Yes it is. Thank you, Professor Velasquez.

EV: My pleasure, Jerry Craft.

JC: Speaking of pleasure, it’s time to finish our burgers!

To learn more about Eric Velasquez, visit his website at http://www.ericvelasquez.com/

jerrycraftericvelasquez


Day 27: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

February 27, 2017

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Over the past 13 years, award-winner Vanessa Brantley-Newton has illustrated  (or illustrated and authored) approximately 80 books for children, including titles such as Every Little Thing, We Shall Overcome, Mary Had a Little Glam, and The Hula Hoopin’ Queen. Her most recent release is The Youngest Marcher (written by Cynthia Levinson, Simon & Schuster, 1/2017) and later this year, two new series illustrated by Vanessa will debut: a picture book series, Hannah Sparkles (written by Robin Mellom, HarperCollins) and a chapter book series, Jada Jones (written by Kelly Starling-Lyons, Penguin Workshop). A new picture book project with author Derrick Barnes called The King of Kindergarten  with Nancy Paulsen Books was recently announced…and Vanessa is currently working on two picture book projects she will both write and illustrate: Grandma’s Purse and Jewels.

That’s her bio. It’s a phenomenal bio. But it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of who Vanessa Brantley-Newton truly is, or what she means to so many of us who are in the children’s publishing industry. Below is a letter that describes the inspiration she has been to me.

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Dear Vanessa,

By the time you read this, we will have just had another one of our sister-friend outings. We’ll have shared a meal while talking about life, family, and kidlit—encouraging, commiserating, laughing, possibly even shedding a few tears with one another. It’s what we do, and I’ve grown to value these times we share immensely.

But have I ever told you how much you inspire me? I mean, literally said those words to you? If not….

You inspire me, Vanessa Brantley Newton. A lot.

vanessa-girl-bantu-knots-heartbeat-colors

We first “e-met” on Facebook in September of 2011. I sent you a message complimenting your artwork, which I was first introduced to through your 28 Days Later feature earlier that year.  I was (and still am) enamored with your artistic style, which is vibrant and inclusive and never fails to make me feel.  You responded to my message and, to my disbelief, I found out you had recently relocated from Jersey to Charlotte…WHERE I LIVE!

It was a full year before we would meet face to face, over a meal at The Cheesecake Factory (I think), along with my mother and daughters and your hilarious sister.  We all had a ball! In fact, my mother (who stills asks about you to this day even though she only met you that one time) said to me on the way home, “They felt like old friends.” I thought our connection was about chance chemistry. In hindsight, it was about who you are as a human being:  warm, generous, authentic…

…inspiring.

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It’s inspiring to hear you speak about your purpose as a children’s book creator. I have heard you say many times that you want every child to be able to see themselves within your body of work; that you want them to feel valued, empowered, and worthy of self-love  as they experience your books and illustrations. I’d add the word joyful to that list also, because that’s how your pictures often make me screen-shot-2016-02-03-at-9-37-36-amfeel. To know that you are basically self-taught is mind-blowing to me, given how skilled you are in your craft and how replete with emotion each one of your creations is. I guess that’s the kind of thing that can’t be taught anyway. Emotion. The difference between craft and art.

You are a genuine artist, Vanessa; I am striving to create work as genuine as yours.

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No matter the expression—illustration or fine art, makeup or hair, writing, singing, or speaking to crowds large and small—the totality of your existence seems geared toward creativity, conveyed in a way that motivates and brings people together. You have a positive effect on everyone, and not in a superficial way either.  I think it’s because you believe in the power of truth. Whether sharing your own, or speaking it to others in love, the truth in your hands always feels like encouragement and exhortation as opposed to judgment. How do you do that? My kids would like for me to know. :)

every-little-thing_interior-1-300x297V, I want to thank you for the support you have been to me over these past five-plus years. Along the way you have publicly celebrated my successes, privately consoled me in moments of despair, and consistently encouraged me to reach beyond my expectations for myself. You even gave me an art lesson, for goodness sake, because you want me to be able to illustrate my own books someday! In the face of life you model class and grace, and your actions speak every bit as loudly as your words.

Even though I don’t remember for sure where we dined at our first meeting, I do remember clearly your genuineness, your wisdom, and the immediate gift of sisterhood you bestowed on me that day…and none of those things has ever wavered or diminished. Since then, we’ve shared numerous meals at some pretty cool places, and have taken a couple of business-related road trips together. You’ve prayed with, for, and over me. Your mentorship and friendship have been steadfast and true, and I am eternally thankful for the blessing of you.

Love,
Tameka

vanessa-and-tameka-at-lunch

 

 

All illustrations courtesy Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Enjoy more of Vanessa’s artwork at Painted Words.

Watch the New York Times “Live Illustration with Vanessa Brantley-Newton” below:


Day 26: Eloise Greenfield

February 26, 2017

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I knew that Eloise Greenfield loved me. As a child, I pored over HONEY, I LOVE over and over again, and could hear the words of her poems just as if she were right next to me, speaking to me, chatting with my mother and grandmother, reminding me that I was special, powerful, beautiful, and fully LOVED.

We featured Ms. Greenfield back in 2008; she was born in 1929, in segregated North Carolina. She studied piano as a child, trained as a teacher and worked in civil service at the U.S. Patent Office. She had her first poem published in the Hartford Times in 1962 and her first book (a biography of Rosa Parks) was published in 1972. Her bio notes that she’s won the Coretta Scott King Award for Africa Dream, and a CSK Honor for The Great Migration: Journey to the North (which was also an ALA 2012 Notable Children’s Book.) honeyilove“She received the Carter G. Woodson Award for Rosa Parks. For Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems, she received the 1990 Recognition of Merit Award, presented by the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books. She received the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, written with her mother, Lessie Jones Little….On February 23, 2013, she was one of twenty African American women who received the Living Legacy Award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization founded by Carter G. Woodson…the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, given for a body of work to a living American poet; the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award; the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s North Star Award for lifetime achievement…In 1999, Ms Greenfield was inducted into the National Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent. For her body of work, she also received the 2007 Wheatley Book Award, sponsored by Quarterly Black Books Review as part of the Harlem Book Fair.”


(And yes, the ellipses mean more awards.)

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The author of more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and biography, Ms. Greenfield’s work celebrates “love and the simple joys of everyday life”, the rich heritage of the African Diaspora, family, and childhood. In her 1979 biographical work Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir, she wrote:

“People are a part of their time. They are affected, during the time that they live by the things that happen in their world. Big things and small things. A war, an invention such as radio or television, a birthday party, a kiss. All of these help to shape the present and the future. If we could know more about our ancestors, about the experiences they had when they were children, and after they had grown up, too, we would know much more about what has shaped us and our world.”

Eloise Greenfield’s loving work nurtured me and my creative self; my mother read the poems aloud, I finger-traced Leo and Diane Dillon’s illustrations of cornrows and braids like mine and my sister’s. I read her words and they helped teach me that language was music, rich with flavour and history and hope. Though she often wrote about an African American experience that was not quite my own, I read her mentions of cousins who lived “down South” and a way of life that resonated with this child of immigrants. “I want to make them laugh, I want to give them ideas, I want them to see how beautiful they are,” says Greenfield in this talk at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 40th Annual Legislative Conference in 2010. When I occupied spaces that made me feel as though I did not belong, Ms. Greenfield whispered to me that I did. “I relate to the human experience, whenever and wherever it occurs. Over the many years of my life, I have witnessed the strength of children and I am inspired by it,” she said in an interview.

Thank you, Ms. Greenfield. I remain inspired by you.

For more about Eloise Greenfield:

On TeachingBooks.net

The Poetry Foundation

Balkin Buddies profile


Day 25: Rosa Guy

February 25, 2017

Most people have never heard of Rosa Guy (rhymes with “key”), but she has been influential in developing the careers of many writers despite her relative obscurity. Guy was born in Trinidad & Tobago and raised in Harlem from age 7. After the death of her father, and because her older sister was ill, Guy left school at age 14 to take on factory work. She studied acting at the American Negro Theater in the 1940s before she turned to writing.

In 1950, she was one of the founders (the only woman) of the Harlem Writer’s Guild. Their mission to develop works by writers of the African diaspora helped literary greats including Ossie Davis, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Sidney Poitier, and Walter Dean Myers. In 1977, the group was honored by the United Nations Society of Writers, and by 1986, founder John Oliver Killens estimated that their members “had produced over 300 published works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, and screen plays.”

Guy’s writing career began with a novel for adults, BIRD AT MY WINDOW (1966). It is “set in Harlem and examines the relationship between black mothers and their children, as well as the social forces that foster the demoralization of black men.” It was one of the first novels to be published by a Harlem Writers Guild member. Guy next turned to a work of nonfiction, editing CHILDREN OF LONGING (1970), a compilation of essays by black teens and young adults which “graphically depict the experiences of growing up in a hostile world.”

the-friendsThen came her best-known work, THE FRIENDS (1973), the first of a trilogy followed by RUBY (1976), and EDITH JACKSON (1978), all dealing with the lives of adolescent Black girls in New York, the first two from the perspective of Black Caribbean girls adjusting to American culture. Alice Walker called THE FRIENDS a “heart-slammer.” Both the series, and Guy herself garnered praise from critics and her peers. “She’s never afraid of the truth,” Maya Angelou once said. “Some writers dress the truth in a kind of elegant language, so it doesn’t seem quite so blatant, so harsh, so raw. But Rosa was not afraid of that.”

Another trilogy, THE DISAPPEARANCE (1979), NEW GUYS AROUND THE BLOCK (1983), and AND I HEARD A BIRD SING (1987) also called THE IMAMU JONES MYSTERIES, are about a Harlem teen who finds himself in and out of trouble—and jail—in an emotional and social landscape that still resonates today.

new-guysStandalone young adult novels include MIRROR OF HER OWN (1981), a coming of age story about eighteen-year-old Mary Abbot and THE MUSIC OF SUMMER (1992) which dealt with colorism viewed from the perspective of the darkest-skinned girl in a group of teens during a summer on Cape Cod. For younger readers, Guy wrote PARIS, PEE WEE AND BIG DOG (1984) about ten-year-old Paris and his friends on one adventurous and unsupervised day in New York City, and THE UPS AND DOWNS OF CARL DAVIS III (1992) about a Harlem boy who moves to live with his grandmother in South Carolina.

Guy also wrote picture books. In MOTHER CROCODILE: “MAMAN-CAIMAN” (1988), Guy retold a series of African folktales. The book won a Coretta Scott King Award for the illustrations by John Steptoe. BILLY THE GREAT (1992) explored what happens when parents have different plans for a kid’s future than the kid himself.

my-loveIn between, Guy continued to write for adults. A MEASURE OF TIME (1983) once again delved into her personal experiences living in Harlem, and MY LOVE, MY LOVE, OR THE PEASANT GIRL (1985), which has been described as The Little Mermaid meets Romeo and Juliet, was adapted for stage. It was nominated for eight Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award, and won the Theatre World Award, as well as the Olivier Award for Best New Musical for the UK production. A Broadway revival was in the works as of 2016.

Guy’s influence on me goes back to my arrival in New York City at age 15, feeling awkward and terrified, and then happening on a copy of THE FRIENDS in the Brooklyn Public Library. The main character Phylissia was literally me in print. The book changed several things for me: first, I didn’t feel like I was alone in my attempts to fit in as a Caribbean immigrant. Second, though I had always wanted to be a writer, I had not considered writing for children. THE FRIENDS changed the trajectory of my writing career.

Guy died in 2012 of cancer. While her work never became as popular as Walter Dean Myers in the kidlit industry, it was certainly as important, and she herself may have been more influential in the number of writers she helped to develop.

Sources:

Fox Margalit. “Rosa Guy, 89, Author of Forthight Novels for Young People, Dies,” The New York Times, June 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/books/rosa-guy-89-author-of-forthright-novels-for-young-people.html

“Rosa Guy American Author.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed February 17, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rosa-Guy#ref1047496

Review of Children of Longing by Rosa Guy, Kirkus, October 28, 1971, https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/rosa-ed-guy/children-of-longing/

Viagas, Robert. “Once on this Island Revival Aiming for Broadway, Directed by Michael Arden.” Playbill, August 30, 2016, http://www.playbill.com/article/once-on-this-island-revival-aiming-for-broadway


Day 22: Salva Dut

February 22, 2017

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More than two decades of civil war in Sudan caused much trauma, displacement, and destruction. Children were forced to flee the country, and many of the boys became known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan”. In the midst of the pain, stories like Salva Dut’s shone. From the Water for South Sudan website: “As an 11-year old Dinka from Tonj in southwest Sudan, Salva fled first to Ethiopia. Then later, as a teenager, he led 1500 ‘Lost Boys’ hundreds of miles through the Southern Sudan desert to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. That courage and heroic perseverance continue to this day. Relocated to the United States in 1996, he now leads Water for South Sudan, Inc., the non-profit organization he founded in 2003.”

Salva’s story was told in Linda Sue Park’s bestselling and award-winning 2010 novel, A Long Walk To Water. Park combines Salva’s true story with the story of the fictional Nya, who walks for hours each day to get water for her family. Working from research, Salva’s own writing, and finally, interviews with Salva himself, Park worked with Salva Dut to tell his remarkable story. Though she’d never been to Sudan, Park believed in shining a light on Salva’s story: “One of my biggest hurdles was writing about a place I’d never visited myself. That had always been a deal-breaker for me in the past, and it remains so today. It was a tough decision to make, but I decided that if I stuck *like glue* to the information that Salva had given me, I could break that ironclad rule JUST THIS ONCE.”

Salva Dut now leads Water for South Sudan, Inc., the non-profit organization he founded in 2003. Today, on the Brown Bookshelf, he reflects on the impact of sharing his story and the phenomenon the book has become. (BBS Note: Check out some of the thrilling “Success Stories” from readers who were inspired by Salva’s work — it’s wonderful what sharing a story can do.)
salvalindasue

What has surprised you most since the book’s release?
The number of copies sold! And how much the book impacts people. The story touches people so deeply. People sometimes cry when they meet me.

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Water for South Sudan is headquartered in both South Sudan and New York State. How are people involved at each location? How can young people get involved in this work? What advice do you have for young readers who want to engage in activism?
Water for South Sudan is headquartered in Rochester, New York, and we have our Operations Center in Wau, South Sudan. The Rochester office handles all of the fundraising, and a lot of the administrative details. All donations come through our Rochester office. We also handle all the communications, including our website, social media and mailings.
Our Operations Center handles the hard work! They have a compound in Wau, where we store our vehicles and equipment during the rainy season. Our operations center handles all of the drilling, hygiene and rehabilitation work, and have begun researching how we might do sanitation work. Our team has an office there, and communicates with our Rochester office from there.
Young people can spread the word about our work! Follow us on social media, tell your friends and family about us, and suggest that people read A Long Walk to Water.
For readers who want to engage in activism I say Do it! This is your world. You can make a difference.
My message to all children is to stay calm when things are hard or not going right for you. You can overcome those things if you have hope, faith, and perseverance. You will find people who will help you succeed. Also, value your education and do whatever you can to make life better for others.

What have been some challenges in the work that you do? How have they changed (or remained the same) over time?
It is always a challenge to work in Africa, and specifically in South Sudan. The temperature is very hot. There is also very little infrastructure in South Sudan- very few roads, and no places to buy supplies or have our equipment and vehicles repaired. Our team members have to be very resourceful.
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Tell us a bit about your day-to-day work. As an entrepreneur and activist, what kinds of habits have you cultivated? What are your routines? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?
My day to day work varies based on where I am. Sometimes I am in Wau with our team, helping them to plan and brainstorm. Sometimes I am in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and meet with government officials to help Water for South Sudan get the permits and customs clearances to do our work, and sometimes I am in Kampala, Uganda, where we do our banking and buy our major supplies.
I must always be patient, and always be ready to operate on “African time.” Things often take much longer than they would in the US. I must always be thinking of different ways to get things done, or of working with different people who can help me. I must often be a good problem solver.
I come to the US about two times a year. I do not like it when it’s cold, which, for me would be below 70 degrees! I also do not like the snow. I like it when the weather is hot—over 90 degrees is very nice for me.

Are there any books, stories, or people that inspire you and your work?
I like to watch documentaries, and like to learn about people doing good work in our world.
One person I have admired in my life is John Garang de Mabior. He was a leader in the Sudan Liberation Army and also served as First Vice President of Sudan for a very short time before he died.

What else would you like us to know about you and your work?
I am so grateful to all the people who have helped me in my life. My family in South Sudan, my American family and friends, and all the people who have donated money and raised funds for Water for South Sudan. My team members in South Sudan are now doing the hard work of drilling and rehabilitating wells and I am so grateful for their commitment to Water for South Sudan. I could not have done any of this alone.


How can educators best share your work and message with their students and families? Are there resources you’d recommend that they use?

I think Linda Sue Park’s book has been such a wonderful gift for Water for South Sudan. It has taken our story across the US and around the world. I think it’s an excellent way for people to learn about our work. I think teachers and students and families can also learn more about Africa. It’s a very big place! South Sudan is just one of 54 countries on the continent of Africa.
I also think it’s important for people to learn more about water in our world. Water is becoming such an important resource, and I think the current generation should be paying attention to how we use water in our world.

Where Do We Go From Here?
I think that the people of our world, particularly young people, need to learn how to get along. This is not just a phrase or saying. We need peace in our world, and peace begins at home, and in our hearts. If young people can learn how to solve disagreements, and learn how to get along with people who are different, then I think we have a hopeful future.
I am very hopeful when I meet so many young people who are inspired by A Long Walk to Water, and want to help others.

Don’t miss Salva’s powerful TED talk, “I Kept Walking.”

Resources for Educators and Families from Water for South Sudan.

Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring so many, Salva!


DAY 19: Anaya Lee Willabus

February 19, 2017

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As an author / illustrator, there’s nothing like looking back at the books I’ve done to make me feel proud. And when I think that I published my first book way back in 1997, there’s nothing quite like that to make me feel old. With the possible exception of interviewing Anaya Lee Willabus, who is all of 9 years old! Once I got over that, it was indeed a pleasure to share the spotlight on this up-and-coming author.

So without further delay, The Brown Bookshelf would like to introduce you to today’s star of 28 Days Later: Miss Anaya Lee Willabus.

Enjoy!

The Process: How do you work? Do you start with a character, a concept, an idea? Do you outline first or just go? Is there a technique or routine for drafting or revising that you find particularly helpful? Do you have an office or other location that works best for you?

As for me, ideas for another book are always flowing through my head. When writing my books, I would sit and jot down my ideas so that I do not forget them.  Thereafter, I would re-read and make the necessary changes.  When I was about five, I would put together small pieces of pages and write mini stories about various topics. I knew as I grew that I would be an author. The interest in writing has also captured my attention. Also, I walk with a special notebook to school so when ideas pop up, I would write them down. Overall, I am a ‘write as I go’ type of author, however, I usually have an idea of what my story will be about.

The Journey: Discuss your path to publishing.

My first book was inspired by my trip to Guyana, South America. My parents were born there and they wanted my siblings and me to visit and learn about our Guyanese culture. Upon my visit, it was beyond my expectations. Guyana was truly a difference from what I was accustom to in the USA. Not only was there an abundance of fresh fruit trees everywhere, and summer weather every day, but the celebrations for holidays were done differently. We spent the 2014 Easter holiday  there, and it is part of the Guyanese tradition to fly kites and host picnics with family and friends. That was my first time flying a kite. Overall, my trip was not only awesome, but the cool part was I had a ton of creative book ideas that I needed to write down.  Eventually, my parents saw how serious I was about my idea of writing my first book and they decided to support my initiative. Since my parents were not familiar with the process, it took me about one year to complete the entire process of my first published book.  I would write after school and on the weekends.

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Under The Radar: Share the name(s) of authors or illustrators of color who you believe are rising stars.

Firstly, I prefer to read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction books. It is important to learn from different authors’ perspectives to feed my mind. I am not sure of names of other upcoming authors and illustrators, but I do have my own favorites who are already established.

If I have to give a name of one of the favorite illustrators, I would have to shine the light on Mr. Frank Morrison. He is one of the best children’s book illustrators in my opinion.  Not only is he a master at his craft, but he is a great person. I had the honor of meeting him a few months ago at the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, California.

When it comes to authors, there are many that stand out. I have read in excess of six hundred books and there are so many great pieces of literature. Sharon Draper’s book ‘Fire from the Rock,’ was a great read. Jacqueline Woodson’s book, ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ was an excellent piece on what went on in the 1960’s as an African-American child.  ‘One Crazy Summer’ by Rita Williams-Garcia was another great story. Also, just to add a few more names, I had the pleasure of reading the works of some great civil rights activists like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver and many more. ‘Dreams from My Father’ by Barack Obama was an interesting take on how the former president grew up and his path to being the great man he is today.

 

The State of the Industry: Share your thoughts on the state of kidlit by authors of color specifically, or more generally, your views on children’s book publishing.

Throughout my years of reading, there have been many interesting books, but not any that I found by children of color, besides myself. However, I was always encouraged by my parents to read history books. According to my parents, it is important to learn the facts so that I would be furnished with the knowledge of the past and appreciate the people who created the opportunities for me, today.

Upon visiting the library, I do not recall seeing nor reading any books written by African-American children, thus far. This finding was one of my motivations for publishing my books. Also, I could not find books that told stories of my Guyanese culture nor heritage from a child’s perspective.

I think that the big publishing companies focus more on the ‘Quantity’ rather than the ‘Quality!’ In other words, it is more about what sells first and not necessarily what the content has to offer the readers. Most books for children my age focus on picture books while others focus on keeping children in a dream world.

I enjoy writing ‘realist fiction’ books since it gives the readers an opportunity to dive into something different. It is my hope that publishers read my work and appreciate the uniqueness of what I offer.

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The Buzz: List reviews/honors, trailers, etc. for featured book(s)

Here are some websites and additional links about my books.

New York Daily News

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/meet-9-year-old-author-wrote-book-article-1.2544250

PIX 11News

http://pix11.com/2016/03/03/9-year-old-brooklyn-girl-is-youngest-published-chapter-book-author-in-u-s-history/

Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-year-old-is-the-youngest-published-chapter-book-author-in-the-us_us_56e6c5d5e4b065e2e3d66d0e

News 12 Brooklyn

http://brooklyn.news12.com/news/9-year-old-brooklyn-girl-is-new-york-s-youngest-author-1.11247003

 


Day 16: Alix Delinois

February 16, 2017

alixdelinoisFor me, the coolest aspect of being a part of The Brown Bookshelf is learning about, and reaching out to, artists and writers who are not currently on my radar. Recently I had the pleasure of learning about Alix Delinois,  a fine artist and art teacher living in Harlem. He has illustrated two children’s books written by award-winning authors Walter Dean Meyers and Edwidge Danticat. His work displays a dynamic color palette and bold compositions to express human emotions and experience. And his subjects of interest include Harlem and NYC’s urban setting; his Haitian background; and his love of Black culture and history.

Please join me in welcoming Alix Delinois to 28 Days Later.

The Journey:

At the age of seven, I moved from Saint Marc, Haiti to Harlem, NYC.  Drawing, for me, became a source of distraction from all of the huge changes in my life at that time.  Doodling characters in notebooks and trying to copy the different characters in children’s books was very appealing to me. It helped me begin to become familiar with my new world and feel some level of mastery and control.  From that point on, I started collecting comic books and practiced drawing the characters from them, too.  Even though I loved comic books, I always returned to picture book stories and their illustrations. When I was in the fourth grade, I came across Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. From that point on, I would say to myself that I wanted to be like this artist. I knew I wanted to create and illustrate stories that depicted the beauty of African/ Caribbean life and history.

At the age of 13, I was lucky enough to be accepted into the City College Arts Institute, a program focused on teaching inner city students about careers in art and museums.  Every Saturday, I attended classes at the City College Arts Institute.  When it was time to attend high school, my mentor in the City College program, Joseph Harris, suggested that I apply to his alma mater, the High School of Art and Design.  He helped me with my portfolio and I was accepted into the school where I majored in illustration and worked closely with another mentor, Richard Manigualt.  I went on to study illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology and completed my BFA in Illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY.   During my last three semesters at Pratt, I began to focus on children’s book illustration. I was fortunate to work with many great picture book illustrators at Pratt including Leonard Jenkins, Floyd Hughes, James Ransome, and Rudy Gutirrez.  While at Pratt, I learned that John Steptoe also graduated from the High School of Art and Design. That knowledge made me tremendously proud and made me feel confident that I was following the right path.
The Inspiration:

Well, I have been influenced by many artists. John Steptoe is my all- time favorite book illustrator. That said, I am inspired by greats such as Arron Douglass, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and illustrators Tom Feelings, Jerry Pinkney, Leo and Diane Dillone, to name a few.  I also draw inspiration from my own life and experiences in Haiti and Harlem as well as Black culture and history.

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The Process:

My process is very straightforward. I sketch many different ideas of what I think could work well for a book. My concepts and sketches usually involve the character(s) in the appropriate space /scene and then I build around them. When it comes to colors, I find it natural for me to use a lot of colors, particularly bright colors. I think being from Haiti makes that very natural for me.

Sometimes, to develop scenes, I research and take pictures that I can use for references.  I had a lot of fun with my last book, Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence. Since Mumbet was a period piece, once I had my sketches and storyboard in good order, I rented American colonial period outfits from a costume shop. My friends and I drove to Staten Island in a small Zipcar and took photos in costume at Richmond Town, a preserved colonial village.
The Back Story:

I met Sheila of Groundwood Publishing at a book convention.  I was happy to hear back from Sheila regarding a book idea for a story entitled Greetings Leroy after our meeting. I liked the story very much because it reminded me of my own story when I first came to America. Thank you, Sheila, for providing with a beautiful and relatable story to work from.  Greetings Leroy is set for release on May 1st, 2017.