In 2016, the literary, arts and community at large lost a dear friend, Joyce Carol Thomas. An unassuming woman, easy to laugh and ready to listen, one would never know that she was a world-renowned award-winning author, poet, and playwright who loved children and championed the cause of their literacy for many years. Joyce set a high bar for those of us who continue to write, illustrate and advocate for adding multicultural children's books to the library shelves.
A true storyteller, ironically the depth of her story can never be known or told. But if one reads closely the beautiful words she penned, you can glimpse the flecks of gold in her rich African American experience. On behalf of her readers and mentees - I include myself- we remember Joyce in our work and our commitment to forge ahead in the important cause of producing bodies of literature that tell our stories that enhance and enrich the American tapestry. Joyce Carol Thomas will never be forgotten. We celebrate her.
In Celebration of Joyce Carol Thomas
The following is excerpted from a write up by Shannon Maughn.
Carol Thomas, whose works largely focused on family and the African-American experience, died on August 13. She was 79. Thomas was born on May 25, 1938 in the small town of Ponca City, Okla., where she lived until the age of 10. Her family then resettled in rural California where Thomas learned various farming chores and would work long summers harvesting crops alongside Mexican migrant workers from whom she learned to speak Spanish and developed a love of the language.
In 1966 she earned a B.A. in Spanish from San Jose State College (now University) and received a M.A. in education from Stanford University in 1967. She entered academia and taught French and Spanish, black studies, drama, and English at the college level at several institutions around the country throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. During that time she was raising her four children from two marriages that ended in divorce and was also writing plays and poetry for adults.
But Thomas embarked on a new career path in 1982 when Jean Feiwel, then editorial director of Avon Books for Young Readers, published her first young adult novel, Marked by Fire. The book was set in her Oklahoma hometown and followed the joys and tragedies of Abyssinia, a girl born in the cotton fields during a brush fire who has the gift of a beautiful singing voice. The book received critical praise and won the National Book Award in 1983. It was subsequently adapted into the 1987 Broadway gospel musical Abyssinia. A sequel to the novel, Bright Shadow, won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1984.
Thomas went on to write additional novels for adults and teens as well as a number of picture books that showcased her poetry. Her picture book collaborations with illustrator Floyd Cooper earned wide acclaim including a Coretta Scott King Award for Cooper in 2009 for The Blacker the Berry (HarperCollins, 2008) along with Thomas’s Coretta Scott King Honor for the text; a Coretta Scott King Honor for both author and illustrator for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea (HarperCollins, 1993) and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for I Have Heard of a Land (HarperCollins, 1998). In all, Thomas created more than 30 books for children.
Jean Feiwel, now senior v-p and publisher of Feiwel and Friends, offered these words in an email note: “I was privileged to publish Joyce’s first novel, Marked by Fire,” she said. “She was a beautiful person and a beautiful writer. That novel won the National Book Award and set the course for Joyce’s brilliant career.”
And Thomas’s longtime publisher Joanna Cotler, former senior v-p and publisher at Joanna Cotler Books at HarperCollins Children’s Books, shared this remembrance: “Joyce Carol Thomas was a beautiful, generous and kind person, and a wonderful writer. I was extraordinarily lucky to know her, and so privileged to have published her outstanding work.”
Thomas is survived by her children and grandchildren.
Meet Floyd Cooper
At age three, Floyd Cooper began drawing on pieces of plasterboard left over from his father's work as a builder. He drew constantly after that, even on his math and reading worksheets in school! After getting his college degree in fine art, Cooper got a job creating art for a greeting card company. But he dreamed of being an illustrator in New York City. With the encouragement of the artist Mark English, he moved there. After some rejections, he got a book manuscript to illustrate. Only later did Cooper find out that the book, Grandpa's Face, was written by Eloise Greenfield, a well-known children's writer. Cooper's illustrations for the book brought him a lot of attention, and his career has continued to grow ever since.
The technique Cooper uses is called oil wash on board. He paints an illustration board with oil paint, and then he does something unusual. With a stretchy eraser, he erases the paint to make a picture! He calls this method of painting a "subtractive process." He likes to demonstrate this technique for kids to show them"that there can be different approaches to age-old problems."
Virginia enjoyed art even as child and continued pursuing her passion and developing her talents through college. She attended the University of Washington where she honed her skills in painting, then went on to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where she received her BFA in illustration. Virginia moved to New York and worked as a freelance illustrator for commercial jobs before returning to the Bay Area where she began focusing on fine art to allow for more creative freedom.
Virginia continued developing her talents while studying abroad, attending painting workshops in Italy and China. She is also talented in printmaking and sculpture. Her artwork, featured at exhibitions across the country, includes several commissioned works. Virginia lives in San Francisco, California. Granny, Who is God? is her first children's book.
Visit Virginia's website at www.virginiajourdan.com.
Meet Virginia Jourdan, Illustrator, Granny Who is God?
“As an artist, I offer inspiration. Painting is my peace of mind.”
Welcome to the Café
Enjoy a cup of tea - a latté. Take a moment to
celebrate the power and awe of creativity...
Many amazing writers and artists throughout the world have contributed to the landscape of multicultural children's books. Others just entering scene, carry with them new promise, new ideas and new perspectives. It is our honor to share the tip their stories and a sample of their creations with you in the Café.
"My personal goal is to take the reader on a journey into the story, to get a sense of the smells, the atmosphere, and the emotions conveyed by the characters."
“In hazy scenes that glow with warmth, Cooper (Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History) pays homage to the dramatic landscape of the unnamed park, but the focus of his images and Bogan’s understated writing is on Rodney, and how he finally has the freedom to investigate nature intimately and on his own terms. It’s a stirring reminder of the importance of access to nature, and how rare that access is for many children."
“Rodney, a Black child in a diverse, contemporary classroom, is experiencing nature on a scale both grand and intimate at the center of this buoyant yet contemplative picture book with illustrations that reflect both the changing physical landscape and emotional range of the story as Rodney discovers that “outdoors” can not only be “majestic,” but peaceful, too."
“Where's Rodney?" is a wonderfully produced picture book celebration of the joy that can be experience when children encounter a national park for the first time. Extraordinary, entertaining, and original, "Where's Rodney?" is very highly recommended for children ages 4 to 8, and will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to family, daycare center, preschool, elementary school, and community library picture book collections."
“Where’s Rodney? A city boy unused to the great outdoors, Rodney is awed and enchanted when a field trip takes him to a majestic park where he can finally be free to explore the wonders of nature, honored through beautifully depicted scenery and expressive portraiture from Floyd Cooper, all in soothing and dreamy textured earth tones."