The Choice to Make a Difference: Concluding Thoughts

by Ann Parker, Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona

Finally, my focus turns to the questions that were asked at the presentation entitled “The Choice to Make a Difference” by Jacqueline Woodson, Jerry Pinkney, and Vaunda M. Nelson at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 9th, 2013.

What is the most important thing that being a writer or illustrator has taught you?

Jerry Pinkney: For me, children’s books have allowed me to grow through my interpretation of the subject matter. I search for projects where I can grow as an artist but also as a human being.

Once an editor who was looking for a project for me asked me what I would like to do and I said, “Something I’ve never done before.”

When I take on a new project, I’m learning about myself – it always comes back to my learning and growing and then finding a way to express that thing I am passionate about and then to share it with someone.

My way of sharing is through the art, the illustrations. I always separate my style and my technique from the purpose [of the artwork]. The purpose is to help me understand the story, and then explain it to you; the style is the art itself. The subject matter always drives how I decide to create my pictures.

I have a question for Jacqueline and Vaunda. We are all talking the same language about fiction and nonfiction. Can people of color create non-fiction or fiction without inventing, and is there a reason you feel you need to invent?

Vaunda M. Nelson: Bad News for Outlaws is nonfiction and I worked very hard to keep it that way. [Bass Reeves, an African-American Deputy U.S. Marshal from the late 1870’s] is so amazing I felt children should know about him. His story could come across as a tall tale, but I wanted kids to know Bass was not made up. He was real. I needed to tell his true story in a way that would engage readers. In my early drafts I invented dialogue, but quickly decided against using it because I knew that would be crossing the line into fiction. I’m a purist. It’s the librarian in me. There’s nothing wrong with fictionalizing, but we need to be clear about it. All dialogue in Bad News for Outlaws is documented.

Jacqueline Woodson: Thinking about creating something that is nonfiction has me thinking about [my book] Coming on Home Soon. [The book tells the story of Ada Ruth, a young girl whose mother leaves home to find work in Chicago during World War II. Ada Ruth and her grandmother look forward to her mother’s return.] I did research and thought that all the Rosie the Riveter stories were about white women, and I asked, “Where were the women of color?” But then I wrote it as fiction. I think part of [my decision to write it as fiction] is because I know how to write fiction, I know how to pull a reader through fiction. Hopefully, once the book turns on the lights [for the reader], the reader will continue the journey through non-fiction.

In the 1970s we [African-Americans] were so absent in so much of the literature I feel I want to fill that in. Kids will read nonfiction or fiction and both of those need to be ways of getting them to our truths and hopefully sending them forward to say, “OK, we existed here, and now what?”

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