I always take a selfie on my birthday but this year I’ve been taking pictures all month long. Every time I’m out with friends, I ask someone to snap a photo with their phone so that there’s proof of our outing. I’ve just started writing again—850 words yesterday, 300 the day before. I’m hoping to get back up to a thousand words a day, which should allow me to finish The Return by Xmas. I have my first BPL-sponsored school visit in a few days and since I’m no longer teaching, I have plenty of days when I don’t have to leave the house. Which is good when I’m writing, but not so good when I’m not. Yesterday I went up to the Society of Illustrators to see The Original Art show and the Leo & Diane Dillon retrospective. The Original Art exhibit took up two floors and the artwork was just stunning. I was counting, of course—how many of these illustrators are people of color? How many are women of color? How many artists had multiple submissions? I barely noticed who won the gold and silver medals, perhaps because I was thinking about this article: “If you’re lucky enough to earn a living from your art, you’re probably white.” Which isn’t surprising but is nonetheless frustrating, and I found myself wondering as I wandered through the exhibit, “Who’s never had a chance to shine?” It’s an honor to be included in the show, but if you aren’t being asked to illustrate picture books, then there’s no chance your art will be deemed “good enough.” The outing soured further when I went up to the third floor and discovered that the Dillon exhibit was IN THE RESTAURANT. So it was hard to get close to the art since there were diners, and waiters, and tables, and steaming pans of food in the way. I guess I could have asked to speak to the curator, but instead I left thinking to myself, “Of course. Of course the art I really want to see is treated that way.” I can remember visiting Black-owned A&B Books when I first came to NYC and marveling at all the book covers that featured art by the Dillons. I’d never seen Black folks depicted so beautifully—and magically. I may print out a bunch of Dillon illustrations from the web and pin them to my bulletin board to inspire me as I write. Their art is the stuff of dreams…
My birthday is tomorrow but this email I received on Thursday is the best possible gift:
My daughter recently received The Magic Mirror for a gift a few weeks ago and it’s amazing. All I kept saying was ‘I have to find this author and say thank you, I have to.’ This has become my daughter’s favorite book and she takes it everywhere with us. Thank you for writing and publishing a book like that and all the others that you have, it means a lot to us.
I have to believe that even when we’re marginalized, our work will find a way to those who need it most. I’ve decided to draft an open letter to the We Need Diverse Books committee. They’re doing important work but lasting change won’t happen unless they address the source of the problem. I’m glad that Brown Girl Collective posted this quote from Audre Lorde on Facebook yesterday:
When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.
~ Audre Lorde (1934-1992), poet, author and activist