Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My unintentional April tour report

Whew! The past month has been a whir wind. I painted, presented, spoke, traveled and signed books — and did it all on only an ounce of sleep. I've had a ball, but I'm tired, I'm out of shape, and my throat is so sore. In normal everyday life, I don't talk much, so I think I've strained my vocal chords.

Since the first of April, I've traveled to Houston, Corpus Christi, Dallas, and Charlotte, N.C. In total, I've given approximately 30 presentations. All of the events were special to me, each in a different way. But I am especially giddy having participated in the first African American Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators conference in Charlotte.

The conference was inspiring, healing, uplifting, life-changing. There was something magic about attending a conference made up of children's writers and illustrators who share a common experience: The African American experience.

Pictured above is my aunt, Eleanora E. Tate, author of Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, and me. Here are a few more pictures from the past few weeks:

The African American Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference was small — less than 60 attendees — but folks were so excited, and at times, emotional. Take note of the two male attendees. They were given special recognition prizes. . . lol!

Eileen Robinson, of F1rstPages, and Sara Ketchersid, senior editor with Caldlewick Press, discuss what makes Where The Wild Things Are the perfect picture book.

Lovely and elegant, Kelly Starling Lyons, author of One Million Men and Me, conducts a breakout session.

Scholarly and commanding, Christine Taylor-Butler, author of No Boys Allowed! holds class. Her hands-on discussion was about editing your manuscript.

My session was mainly geared toward the illustrators. I talked about my path to publication, and how I've slowly evolved into the illustrator I am today. The point I was trying to drive home is that you have to persist in this business, and that it doesn't always happen overnight, like it may seem to happen for others.

Other presenters, who I don't have photos of, include Karen Stong, who also served as moderator for the conference, and whose class act kept things flowing smoothly.

Books, books, books, by and about African Americans. Our numbers may be small proportionally in this business, but compared to twenty years ago, the numbers have grown. One conference attendee made the point that when she was a kid, there weren't many books with characters that look like her. But today, that's simply not true, and that we shouldn't be so quick to complain.

The day before the conference, I presented to the entire student body of Windsor Park Elementary. I was just as excited to be there as the kids were to have me there. I'd never presented in N.C. The kids wrote letters and made these gifts for me.

The remaining pictures are from the Dallas Children's Book and Literary Festival and the Corpus Christi Children's Book Festival:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Dallas Book and Literary Festival

Yesterday morning at the Dallas Children's Book and Literary Festival, authors, illustrators, city leaders, organizers and supporters shared breakfast with approximately 2000 kids, who had been invited especially because of their high grades, good behavior and overall performance in school. Authors and illustrators were encouraged to spread out and mix with the kids while eating.

I sat with a group of young men and women from A.W. Brown Charter School. They were approximately 8 to 11 years old. I was there to inspire them. But they inspired me.

When young African American males make the news, it's usually because they did something bad. In movies and on TV, they are often portrayed as thugs. Heck, let's be honest, many African American males celebrate that thuggish image, perpetuated by rappers and the hip-hop culture.

But the young men and women I shared breakfast with were none of that! Like the 1972 Nina Simone song, they were Young, Gifted and Black. These young men made me proud. They were articulate, smart, mannerly, courteous, funny. They engaged me in conversation. Asked intelligent questions. They talked about their career aspirations, which included computer programming and engineering. And in addition to rap and hip-hop, musical interest included old-school R&B, jazz, techno, heavy metal and country. "Everything except opera," one kid said, making me laugh.

These kids were not forced to be at this festival. They enthusiastically celebrated literature, discussed their favorite books, danced, sang, answered questions—wow! They were great.

The students came to the festival dressed in their finest clothes — suits and ties, dresses and bows, polished shoes. I wore jeans. Next time, I'm dressing up for them.

This isn't to forget the wonderful festival I attended on Friday in Corpus Christi. There I presented to about 1200 kids, in 10-minute sessions. By the time the day was over, I'd made about 25 back-to-back presentations, and then followed it up with a school visit. I absolutely love the people of the Corpus Christi library system.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Illustrating and conferencing, but no blogging (probably)

Now is when things are going to get stressful. I'm already halfway through April, and I have so much to accomplish before the first of May.

To keep on schedule, in the next two weeks, I need to finish three spreads for Effa, a picture book for HarperCollins. So far, I'm happy with how the illustrations are shaping up. But I need to stop and begin working on my keynote for the AACBWI conference coming up in two weeks.

In addition, this coming Thursday and Friday, I'll be in the Corpus Christi Book Festival, which will involve a school visit on Friday afternoon. Friday evening, I'll take a plane to Dallas, and then on Saturday I'll be in a Children's Book and Literary Festival there.

But that's not all. I have several other little projects in the works, not to mention I'd like to contribute in some way to The Brown Bookshelf. So if I'm incognito over the next few weeks, you now know why.

I'll still be Twittering and FaceBooking, however, because micro-blogging doesn't take up too much time.

In other news: The celebration at BookPeople today, with Kathi Appelt and Cynthia Leitich Smith was very nice. Each author introduced the other. They showed trailers of their books, Eternal and The Underneath. Then they interviewed each other and read letters from their readers. A very warm, well attended event. I'm glad I was there.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A family piece

This is a small portion of a painting that I just finished. It was commissioned by Nance Galleries. This was one of the toughest pieces I've ever created because I'm more of a commercial artist, and this is a fine art piece.

I've never done a fine art piece before, at least not that I know of. I'm used to creating art for a specific purpose — art for an advertisement, a book, art to be reproduced and resold as a product. But art for the sake of art?— shoot, I got bills to pay.

In this case, the only boundaries were that it had to be family related. Beyond that, I could do whatever I wanted. I got stuck. The folks at the gallery had seen some of the images posted at THE BEST KID IN THE WORLD, and suggested that I paint my family. So that's what I did.

Keep in mind, I have two adult daughters who, when they read this, will completely take this the wrong way. I didn't intentionally leave you out, girls. This isn't meant to be a literal portrait of my family (though it does kind of look like us); I was going for composition here. One man hugging three grown women and a little boy simply wouldn't work.

I scanned the art and am considering offering prints at a later date.

As of tomorrow, I will be working the Effa Manley story, full time until July.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Back to the grind following TLA09

I had a ball the past few days, mixing it up with librarians, authors, editors, publishers at the Texas Library Association conference in Houston. My signing on Thursday with Penguin went well; almost every copy sold. I signed again on Friday with Texas Overlooked Books, where I sat alongside the talented Rob Espinosa.

Here are a few highlights:

Chris Barton's contagious enthusiasm about the field of children's publishing, and especially about his forthcoming book, The Day-Glow Brothers. Chris wore that excitement all over his being-- figuratively and literally speaking. I hope he'll still hang out with us once he goes big-time.

— Getting mobbed by six librarians, three minutes upon entering the exhibit hall the first day. (I think it was the "author" name badge).

—The disabled guy who rode the exhibit floor with copies of my artwork hanging from the front and back of his cart. I didn't stop and tell him I was the artist.

— Drinks with my roomies and Mark Nobleman. Mark is the author of Boys of Steel.

— Sharing drinks with my August House editor, Liz Parkhurst and author Toni Simmons (whose book I will begin illustrating later this year). Also present were a host of August House authors and storytellers, including Tom McDermott. I hope Liz wasn't disappointed; I am not the outgoing humorist as one might assume from reading my Facebook updates.

— Getting celebrity treatment from the wonderful folks at Penguin.

— Turning a perfectly ruinous lunch fiasco with Diane Roberts, Sue Ward and Chris Barton into a totally fun time (long story).

— Testing out my new GPS Navitator, which impressed the heck out of Kathy Duval and Varian Johnson, who followed in a car behind mine. No one — including myself — knew how to get where were going for dinner. But the navigator got us there.

— Meeting two of the ReaderGirlz Divas. How did I ever miss Justina?!

— Having a librarian spill coffee on me during the Black Caucus breakfast, and then having her invite me to speak at four of her schools in May.

— Having Dr. Loriene Roy go over-and-beyond to get a last-minute seat for me at the Black Caucus breakfast.

— Getting lost on my way to the Black Caucus breakfast, and then getting directions from a librarian, who turned out to be the outgoing President. She expressed her interest in having me speak at next year's breakfast.

— Chatting with friend, author Spelile Rivas, who was at the publishers reception — not as an author, but as a librarian! Huge career change she's made since we last spoke. Good for her!

For fear of leaving someone out, I won't even try to list everyone I ran into. But it was so nice to see and chat and celebrate with the wonderful group of people that make up the children's literature community in Texas.

P.S. I lugged my camera around that conference for three days, and did not take one picture. Duh. Which explains the photo of my exhibitors badge.