Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stuck, Unstuck

I’ve been revising my picture book about children and divorce for some time now. The book centers around a child trying to cope with the practical and emotional logistics of living in two households, after a parents divorce. Each round, my editor challenged me to add more emotion to the story. And after each revision, I thought I had.

I’m desperately trying to keep my enthusiasm up here. With each round it gets harder and harder. I feel that it is never-ending and want to move on.

After reading a book this weekend though, I see what my editor has been implying all along. Sometimes it’s a well-crafted word or phrase that can make a character real. I read Jamaica’s Kincaid’s coming of age novel, Annie John and was moved to give the manuscript one more try.

In Annie John, Kincaid skillfully chronicles a young girls growing up in Antigua and includes a lot of complex mother–daughter conflicts. Her lush details about Caribbean life are particularly rich.

In the beginning as I read the first pages of the book, I must admit, I was not particularly moved. However as I read on, each subsequent page captured my attention and I grew increasingly intrigued.

Kincaid has a gift of injecting subtle emotion into her writing without it being overwhelming or pretentious. It just feels natural. I love the way she gets into the head of her characters and describes, through a strong narrative voice, their feelings.

I hungrily read Annie John in one day, finally finishing at 3 a.m. the next morning, when sleep evaded me. Afterwards, I couldn’t wait to apply what I learned from Kincaid. Annie John was just what I needed to usher me on to the next revision of my children’s book.

Adjoa J. Burrowes

Posted in December, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Graphic Connection

Few knew that the late, renown American painter, Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1995) illustrated several children’s books during her prolific career as an artist — not even me. I was a student of hers at Howard University where she taught for 47 years. I remember her as a no-nonsense design teacher who meticulously critiqued assignments and encouraged all of us to push the boundaries of our designs more and more.

I stumbled across her illustration connection while browsing the catalog for the exhibit, Through Sister’s Eyes: Children’s Books Illustrated by African American Artists, held Nov. 4, 1991—April 24, 1992 at the National Museum of Woman In The Arts, Library and Research Center in Washington, D.C.

The exhibition consisted of original illustrations from Lois Jones, Carole Byard, Pat Cummings, Cheryl Hanna, Delores Johnson and Faith Ringgold. Five other artists including Camille Billops lent their books for the exhibit.

One of Lois Jones’ ink on graphite illustrations for The Picture-Poetry Book appeared on page two of the catalog. Another illustration that looked like a wood or linoleum block print appeared on the back page and was from Eloise Culver’s Great American Negroes in Verse, 1723-1965, depicting the African American freedom fighter Harriet Tubman.

All of Jones’ illustrations in the exhibit were from eight children’s books published by Washington, D.C.’s Associated Publishers. Most if not all of the books featured in the exhibit are out of print and can only be found in the Library of Congress and other selected libraries.

In the catalog’s acknowledgments, Krystyna Wasserman, co-curator of the exhibit, thanked NMWA Founder and President Wilhelmina Cole Holladay for discovering Lois Mailou Jones children’s illustrations while visiting the artist’s studio one day.

Lois Jones was one of the premier African American artists of the 20th century. Her work, spanning three continents, is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery, to name a few. I feel fortunate to have discovered another aspect of the creative life of an amazingly prolific artist. My teacher.

Posted in November, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Gift of Words

My painted mural "The Gift of Words" is permanently installed in the children's division of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial library in downtown Washington, DC. The mural, 5' x 15' in size was based on an illustration I created for the book Destiny's Gift by Natasha Tarpley, that explores a young girl's love for words and the struggles of a small neighborhood bookstore.

I incorporated many book covers into the painting from books relating to Washington D.C., including children’s books by Washington Children’s Book Guild members Alice McGill, Mary Quattlebaum, Michelle Green and Wendy Old.

The mural, funded by the DC Public Library Foundation, is housed on
the second floor in the children’s division of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library at 9th and G St. N. W. Washington, D.C.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Crawl, Caterpillar Crawl

My giant caterpillar art (adapted from one of my illustrated children's books, Crawl, Caterpillar, Crawl) hung for over a year in downtown Washington, DC (located on 10th St. between New York Ave. and H St. NW.) beginning June 15, 2006.

was a large-scale outdoor exhibit made possible by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the Washington Convention Center.