Monday, March 13, 2023

Q&A with Sandra Neil Wallace




Sandra Neil Wallace is the author of the new children's picture book biography Love Is Loud: How Diane Nash Led the Civil Rights Movement. Wallace's many other books include Marjory Saves the Everglades. She lives in New Hampshire.


Q: What inspired you to write this children's picture book biography of civil rights leader Diane Nash?


A: I write about people who break barriers and change the world but are hidden in history. I first heard about Diane Nash in 2012 while I was in Selma, Alabama, conducting interviews for a biography on Jonathan Daniels--a seminarian and voting rights activist.


Diane Nash helped organize Selma’s Voting Rights marches and I learned how she is one of the most influential and effective leaders of the Civil Rights Movement--as integral as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis.


Everything Diane Nash led in the fight for change she won. She led the Nashville sit-ins and integrated Nashville’s lunch counters. She took charge of the Freedom Rides to end segregation on bus travel across the country, and she secured voting rights for Black Americans in the South through the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet most people don’t know who she is.


When I started collaborating with [illustrator] Bryan Collier, conversations between us kept coming up about Diane Nash and bringing her leadership to young readers by making a picture book biography about her. We became creatives on Love Is Loud from the very beginning—the idea stage, which is rare for creatives. Bryan really encouraged me to write this book.


Q: The Kirkus review of the book says, in part, “This picture-book biography illustrates how Black women of the civil rights movement, like Nash, who had just as much impact as men like Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, have received much less attention than they deserve.” What do you think of that description?


A: It's very accurate. As a Black woman leader in the 1950s and ‘60s, Diane Nash faced both racism and gender discrimination. The Women’s Movement galvanized after the Civil Rights Movement and as Diane Nash has said in interviews, that was a problem. Her impact was equal to or surpassed the magnitude of many male leaders in the Movement, but she didn’t receive equal attention. 


Today, young readers have access to many books about Dr. King and John Lewis, but not on Diane Nash. Love Is Loud is the first picture book biography on Diane Nash and it’s one story. I hope there will be more.

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The principles of nonviolence that Diane Nash follows are rooted in such a loud love for humanity, that it fueled her brave actions to dismantle segregation and refuse to cooperate with hate. It’s why we start our book with her quote: “The nonviolent Movement is based upon and motivated by love.”


So, the title—Love Is Loud--is really a reminder about love being at the heart of justice and a transformative, leadership quality. Diane Nash’s actions motivated thousands to follow her lead and she knew that if enough people stand up to hate through powerful, peaceful actions, then justice prevails, positive change happens, and love wins.


There’s a beautiful quote in our book from Diane Nash where she explains why she did what she did. It reads: “Although we had not yet met you, we loved you. And we were trying to bring about the best society that we could for you to be born into.”


Q: What do you think Bryan Collier’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Bryan’s vision is transcendent. And he has such a beautiful and powerful way of shining a light on Diane Nash’s actions and the impactful times in her life where she spoke truth to power.


I feel fortunate to be a creative with him on a second picture book biography. In Love Is Loud, it’s the first time I’ve incorporated second person narration and I don’t consider myself a poet, but Bryan really trusted that vision and elevated the words with his watercolor and collage art, taking the story to a higher dimension.


Through Bryan, the family love that envelopes Diane Nash is palpable. Her power and determination radiate from every illustration.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In addition to starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, and Publishers Weekly, the book just received a fourth starred review from School Library Journal!


Also, at the end of our book in the back matter, there are resources for a deeper dive into the life of Diane Nash and how she changed America—including a detailed timeline, historic photographs of Diane Nash integrating Nashville’s lunch counters in 1960, and links to videos about her--especially the day she received the 2022 Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor.


You can also head to my website,, and download the Love Is Loud Discussion Guide. Diane Nash is a true icon of freedom and I hope she inspires children to be future leaders.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: More books about women changemakers who are unknown to young readers and shouldn’t be, including a geologist and NASA meteorite hunter who made history in Antarctica, and a Ukrainian American cultural icon and entrepreneur.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Sandra Neil Wallace.

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