Charles R. Smith Jr. is the author of the new picture book biography Song for Jimi: The Story of Guitar Legend Jimi Hendrix. His many other books include the new middle grade work Hoop Kings 2: New Royalty. Also a poet and photographer, he lives in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Q: Why did you decide to write a picture book biography of Jimi Hendrix, and how did you research his life?
A: I had always been interested in Jimi since college. He was wild and loud but skilled. I wanted to know how he got skilled and what was the story of his life.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “This creative, impassioned, in-your-face biography is as on fire as Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.” What do you think of that description?
A: I think it's a great description. It's written with passion because I had such a personal connection to Jimi and his work that I had to be true to his style and his artistry.
Q: What do you think Edel Rodriguez's illustrations add to the book?
A: The illustrations make the book a full experience. Like The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The colors, the lines, the imagery, the style...it's the closest thing to the words coming to life.
Q: You also have another new book out, Hoop Kings 2. How did you choose the basketball players to highlight in this book?
A: It's always tough choosing contemporary figures for a book that won't be out immediately. So I used the same formula that I did for the original Hoop Kings. Focus on the best of the best and make sure they are young enough to still be relevant when the book comes out.
That wasn't quite the case with Blake Griffin in Hoop Kings 2 since he's on the downside of his career, but I kept him in because he was one of the first players I thought of when I pitched the follow up. I kept him in because his dunks were so electrifying and not many players are known anymore for that singular skill.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm currently finishing up a biography on the first Black female astronaut, Mae Jemison. I'm also doing a collection of poems on Negro League baseball players using the Hoop Kings 2 format. It's a great way to write a collection on athletes and since they are historical, I get to add that element as well.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Even though most of my books recently have used my writing and poetic skills, I am also a photographer and have illustrated many of my own books. I'm looking forward to branching out in that regard and using my visual storytelling skills to illustrate more of my work in as unique a way as possible. So keep your eyes peeled!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb