Thursday, March 08, 2007

My aunt's new book is out!

Sure, I shouldn't have been driving and reading at the same time, but I couldn't help myself. I'd just received a package in my mailbox, sent from my aunt Eleanora. I knew what was inside the package, but I couldn't open it because I was late for work. As I drove down the interstate, it lay there on the seat, nagging me to open it. "It's your aunt's new novel. It's your aunts new novel," the package said repeatedly.

Finally, I was overcome with anticipation and curiosity, so my body took matters into it's own hands. One knee reached up, grabbed the wheel and steered the car, while both my hands — and teeth — tore into the package. Inside I found Celeste's Harlem Renaissance (Little Brown) by Eleanora E. Tate, her eleventh book.

Receiving a book written by my aunt is just as exciting today as it was when I was a kid — even more so now that I'm in the business myself. Back then, my excitement was based in my aunt's celebrity status. Seemed like everyone in Des Moines either knew Eleanora personally or was familiar with her work. "Are you related to Eleanora Tate," was always the question that followed when I introduced myself to an adult. "Yes," I'd spit out proudly. "She's my aunt, my dad's sister."

Were it not for my aunt's influence, I probably wouldn't be illustrating children’s books, or trying to write them. I'd be an artist of some kind, but children's books wouldn't have crossed my mind as a possible avenue.

In my family as a child, we had a pressman, nurses, postal workers, receptionists, a barber, beauticians, a janitor, plumber, and maid — all honorable professions. I learned something valuable from each one of these people, things I used to succeed in life. But in my family, we also had an award-winning journalist whose work was published in the Iowa Bystander, the black newspaper, and she went on to become an author, whose first novel was adapted into a movie starring Richard Roundtree (Shaft). There weren't any other black kids at school who could claim that, and most didn't believe me when I told them. Her example inspired me to take a similar path.

My excitement today is less about perceived celebrity — though she is — but it stems more from a true understanding of her real accomplishments. Writing a novel — or picture book for that matter — ain't easy. And getting it published is another feat completely.

Anyway, after reading the jacket flap and acknowledgments of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, my curiosity was quenched. My knees relinquished control of the steering wheel back to my hands, and I continued my drive to work.

I was especially tickled at one of my aunt's acknowledgments in particular. My aunt said: "Dedicated to my mother, Lillie M. Tate, who told me to never ever put her name in my books..."

If you knew my Grandma DD's eccentric ways, you'd die laughing, as I did on the interstate (she's gonna act mad, say something nasty, but she'll be smiling inside).

Also enclosed in the package was a copy of Mike Sales' graphic novel Southside Nefertiti. Cool!

****In other news: I may or may not, be blogging over the next week. My weekend is jammed-packed — school visit, critique meeting, basketball, soccor, Farmer — and then it's off to Vegas, where I learned at late notice, that I'll be purchasing my daughter a, I mean, giving my daughter away in marriage.

And, thanks Rinda! for glittering me.

Congratulations go out to Cynthia Leitich Smith on the sale of her latest picture book, Holler Loudly.


Kelly said...

That's so cool, Don! Congrats to your aunt. I love the cover.

gail said...

Congratulations to you and your aunt.
Very cool cover. Who's the illustrator?


Paula said...

I think that's so sweet that you were excited but mostly that you and your aunt share the love of writing for children. What a family legacy.