Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Q&A with Andrea Davis Pinkney

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of the new children's book Martin Rising: Requiem for a King, which is illustrated by her husband, Brian Pinkney. Her many other books include A Poem for Peter and The Red Pencil. She lives in New York City.

Q: Why did you decide to write about Martin Luther King, and why did you focus primarily on the last weeks of his life?

A: April 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. It seemed to be a good moment to honor his contributions and remind people of the days that led to the unfortunate event, and talk about King’s legacy that transcends darkness.

The book has three sections—daylight, darkness, and dawn. While the final days are filled with foreboding, the last poem says that with his love, we will rise.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: Like any author, I try to get to primary source material. I spoke to people who were at the March on Washington, who were active during that era. My own parents marched with King, and I talked to my mother. There are many books about Martin Luther King Jr, and I read a lot of them.

The one thing that really surprised me is King’s humanity. What I mean is that in the final days when he knew it was near the end, the mountaintop speech was a premonition of what he expected. In the final days, he was not feeling well. He had a fever. He said to Ralph Abernathy, I’m so tired, can you go in my stead, and Ralph said, no, they want you.

We think of Martin Luther King as a heroic superhuman. In many respects, he was, but we see also that he was a man. He started to face his own mortality.

Q: How did you and your husband, Brian Pinkney, collaborate on the book, and what role do you see the illustrations playing in the book?

A: Typically an author and an illustrator do not meet each other. It’s the job of the editor and the publishing company to keep the people separate. The author should be free to have his or her own vision, and the illustrator shouldn’t have the author whispering in his ear.

I have a unique situation—I share the same house, the same toothpaste, the same kids, the laundry, with the guy who’s illustrating my book!

Brian’s studio is not in my home. Every day we go our separate ways. I don’t say, come on, honey, give me a sneak peek, because in a normal scenario, I wouldn’t have that. We do talk about our projects once a week, but I don’t see the artwork until it’s done.

In the case of Martin Rising, I know now that Brian was really influenced by Marc Chagall and Norman Lewis. [There’s a] spiritual, metaphorical quality to them…

Q: What do you hope young readers take away from the story?’

A: A couple of things—one is that we learn about Martin Luther King in school; there’s Martin Luther King Day, we see him as a larger-than-life figure, which he was.

However, his message of peace, equality, brotherhood and love is very much alive today. In the last poem, we can celebrate it. What Would Martin Do—can we all go on a march? Sure, but for others, it could be an act of kindness today. You, too, can be a transmitter of peace.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My next project is one that I’m not fully at liberty to talk about, but it involved the same era and it’s set in the South…that time of history really resonates with me.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: One thought I had is that the poems are docu-poems. It’s like a documentary approach to poetry, and it’s meant to be shared, read aloud—you can create a chorus of poems with friends, in a classroom, for a play. It’s meant to be interactive as well as contemplative.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Andrea Davis Pinkney. 

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