Jackie Azúa Kramer is the author of the new children's picture book Dorothy & Herbert: An Ordinary Couple and Their Extraordinary Collection of Art. Her other books include Miles Won't Smile. She has been an actor, singer, and school counselor, and she's based on Long Island, New York.
Q: How did you learn about Dorothy and Herbert Vogel and their art collection, and at what point did you decide to write a book about them?
A: I watched the Herb and Dorothy documentary. It was an amazing story about a postal clerk and librarian amassing one of the largest modern art collections in a small NYC apartment. Dorothy and Herbert were so charming, quirky and yet, so real and personable.
The original story I wrote was inspired when artist Lynda Benglis said in the documentary about the many cats and turtles roaming around Herb and Dorothy’s apartment: “I could imagine being the turtles watching art works come in and out.” So, I wrote a fictional story from the perspective of Dot, a cat, and Albert, a turtle, and how they were inspired by the art as it filled the apartment.
Amy Novesky, my editor at Cameron, liked my Albert and Dot story but loved my back matter describing Dorothy and Herbert Vogel even more. She suggested I write the story about them and their art journey. The rest as they say, is history.
Q: What do you think Julia Breckenreid's illustrations add to the book?
A: The best picture books are those that marry the text and illustrations well. In addition, where the illustrator adds layers to the story not reflected in the text.
Julia captured the essence of Dorothy and Herbert physically and their deep love for each other. The pages are filled with much historical context: 1970s street life in NYC; iconic artists like Christo and Chuck Close. And their amazing journey from beginner artists to trusted mentors and major collectors.
Q: Do you have any particular favorite works of art in Dorothy and Herbert's collection?
A: I wasn’t a fan of minimalist and conceptual art, or at least I wasn’t sure what it was. However, after watching Dorothy and Herbert mentor these incredible artists like Richard Tuttle, Lynda Benglis, and James Sienna, I began to appreciate the genre. Not to mention seeing Sol Lewitt and Robert Mangold’s work and hearing them talk about it.
If I had to choose, anything by Christo and Jean Claude. Their combined artistic vision took my breath away.
Q: How did you first get interested in writing children's picture books?
A: There are a few things that inspired me to write for children and spurred me on, like my background in theatre, but in the end, I felt I had something to say, and I hoped that someone out there might feel the same.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m thrilled to announce three picture books--We Are One, Manolo and the Unicorn, and Empanadas for Everyone coming out in 2022 and 2023. Currently, I’m drafting a story about a little indigenous girl and her family from Ecuador. Sort of a magical folklorist story grounded in reality.
Visit me: Jackieazuakramer.com, Twitter @jackiekramer422, Instagram jackie_azua_kramer
--Interview with Deborah Kalb