Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Q&A with Tricia Elam Walker




Tricia Elam Walker is the author of the new children's picture book Dream Street, illustrated by her cousin, Ekua Holmes. Walker's other books include Nana Akua Goes to School. Also an attorney, educator, and playwright, she lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.


Q: How did you and your cousin end up working together on Dream Street?


A: My cousin, already an award-winning artist and illustrator, and I pretty much grew up together. We are only a year apart, age-wise. We often talked about our desire to do a children’s book together particularly because we had such a lovely, joy-filled childhood and we wanted to share it with others. 


One day I was visiting her studio and she asked me if I thought I could write a story from a series of her collages. I agreed even though it meant I’d have to work in a totally different way. In other words, I was limited to what was already there in terms of creating the story. 


But once I looked deeply at her collages, the story began to take shape. The story was embedded in the art work!


Anyway she liked what I came up with and we began shopping it around but got quite a few rejections. We put it aside for a while and made some changes and then sent it out again. That last time my agent found a publisher who loved it as originally created and gave us a book contract!


Q: What inspired the stories of the various people living on the street?


A: I have to say that Ekua’s art work was the initial inspiration as well as many of the people in my life.


Mr. Sidney (named after my uncle) reminded me of the strong, dignified Black men I was fortunate to be surrounded with, especially my grandfather who cleaned white people’s houses but always wore a suit when he rode the train to work. When he arrived, he would change into old clothes he could get dirty, and he’d put his suit back on when he was finished for the day.


Several characters are named after real-life folks: Little Song, Dessa Rae’s grandbaby, is named for Ekua’s actual granddaughter, Song. The librarian is Ms. Barbara after my mom and two characters have my niece and nephew’s names, Azaria and Zion. There were plenty of hat ladies at church to inspire Ms. Sarah. And that’s about it!


Q: Can you say more about what you think your cousin’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Ekua’s illustrations add dimension and life. (The illustrations have actual layers because they are collages in origin though you can’t tell unless you look very closely.)


Even though most of the illustrations came first in this case (some were added later to match the text), they allow the characters to breathe, which I believe is the job of all good illustrators.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: We hope children will think about where their own “Dream Street” is and if they don’t have one, we want to encourage them to find one. Their Dream Street might be a place, or it might be a person. It might even be inside them. 


We hope children will always dream no matter what and that they will believe in those dreams. We hope they gravitate to the people who encourage that for them. We also hope that adults will see the importance of their roles in helping foster dreams in the children around them.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on several projects at once. More children’s books for sure! Stay tuned.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Tricia Elam Walker.

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