In advance of their latest project, Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It, powerhouse creative couple Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney were gracious enough to sit down for a blog interview with me. My questions covered various topics including advice for budding creatives, what's been keeping them sane with everything going on lately, and what could possibly be on their bucket list?! Enjoy the conversation and nuggets from Andrea and Brian! Their answers will be bulleted.
Through my work as a bookseller, I come into contact with many self-published authors. The world of self-publishing can be rough, and I've seen authors take their bumps and bruises. You, Andrea, have had such a varied career, and quite successful at that. What would you say to an author that's at the very beginning of their career in terms of longevity, perseverance, getting their voice out there in the world, as someone who is as seasoned as yourself?
- There are many opportunities for publication – blogs, virtual chat streams, online affinity spaces, and social media. Starting small can be a good way to build a following that will attract readers and editors to your work. But the most important priority for any writer is honing your craft. Write daily, no matter what, so that you become a nimble writer. When your opportunity shows up to write that magazine feature, novel, or op-ed (as the result of the following you’ve built), you’ll be ready to deliver.
I pose that same question to you Brian, because I also come into contact with many illustrators who are at the beginning of their career. They're struggling with finding their voice, while also learning there's a business to art, so they're facing their own challenges just starting out. What would you say to a Black creative that wants to get into children's book illustrating and earn a living from it?
- Network like there’s no tomorrow! Attend as many conferences, industry events, portfolio showings as you can. Art is meant to be seen, so the more people see you and your work, the better your chances of cutting through the noise. Social media is your friend. Build your following. Volunteer to speak on panels. Reach out to art directors and ask for 20 minute informational meet-and-greets. Follow up again and again. Seek out artists who have what you want, and ask them how they got to where they are. Rule of thumb – it’s the fifth callback that gets you noticed. So keep being that squeaky wheel (in the most polite ways).
I just finished reading your upcoming book Loretta Little Looks Back and I loved it. One, because it's set in MS, which is my home state. Secondly, because of how visual it was to me while reading it. The experience was almost as if I was watching a play and I'm watching the events unfold on stage as the actors give their monologues. Do you ever see yourself, Andrea, writing a play? And you, Brian, as the creative director?
- So glad you like Loretta Little Looks Back.
- The book is a “monologue novel” that stems from my work in the theater, and as an opera librettist. It’s the story of Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B., members of the Little family, who each present the vivid story of their young lives, spanning three generations. Their separate stories – beginning in a cotton field in 1927 and ending at the presidential election of 1968 – come together to create one unforgettable journey.
- Through an evocative mix of fictional first-person narratives, spoken-word poems, folk myths, gospel rhythms and blues influences, the book weaves an immersive tapestry that illuminates the dignity of sharecroppers in the rural South. Inspired by storytelling’s oral tradition, stirring vignettes are presented in a series of theatrical monologues that paint a gripping, multidimensional portrait of America’s struggle for civil rights as seen through the eyes of the children who lived it. The novel spring from stories we heard growing up, and invites readers to walk in the shoes of the Little family members.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Loretta Little, and there were even some parts where I cried! What are you both hoping that children will take away from this book?
- Books spark important conversations. One of our favorite scenes in Loretta Little Looks Back happens in 1964, when young Aggie accompanies her Aunt ‘Retta to a local SNCC meeting seeking volunteers to register to vote. It’s the Jim Crow South, so people are reluctant. They ask for a show of hands. No one is brave enough – except Aggie. She says ‘My hand a mind of its own. It raised itself so far, I thought my palm and fingers would fly off the top of my wrist! I knew that being only twelve-years-old, I was too young to register to vote. But my hand didn’t care about the age a person needed to be to help make things better.’ This scene is punctuated by a painting of Aggie with an exaggerated hand that reaches its way off the page to bring visual power affirming that the future in the hands of our kids. By going to the polls, we show children they have a voice.
I see many parents express concerns that their child isn't a reader or they struggle with getting their child to want to read. As parents yourselves, and also being in the book industry, what are your thoughts on getting kids to read? What would you say to another parent asking for advice?
- Reading together for twenty minutes a day can be a game-changer in the life of a kid, even those who hate books. We were each that kid -- we both struggled in school. Thankfully, our parents understood that the power of choice is key. When kids are given the freedom to pick their own books, they’re more likely to read them, finish them, enjoy them, and become life-long readers. Also, there are many things that “count” as reading – blog posts, magazines, graphic novels, cereal box labels. Even looking at the pictures in a book is reading. It’s called visual literacy! So is listening to an audiobook. That’s auditory literacy.
There's a lot going on in the world right now and sometimes it can get a little crazy. How has your family been handling quarantine? What are some things that have kept you sane during it all?
- While the pandemic has brought on many challenges, there have also been gifts of this time together. We’ve been spending precious family days cooking, watching movies, and having at-home dance parties!
You both come from quite interesting backgrounds with you Andrea, your parents being involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and you Brian coming from artistic parents. And then you've both gone on to lead interesting lives yourselves. Is there anything on your bucket list that you'd like to accomplish?
- Yes, civil rights is deeply rooted in each of our family trees. We believe that reading and writing can be a form of activism – telling important stories and sharing them is a way to carry on the legacy of social justice. Bucket list = Federally funded literacy reforms that mandate books in the homes of each and every child!