Thank you to everyone who has come to be a part of this wonderful celebration of African American stories and imagery created by today’s best writers and illustrators. I give special thanks to God and family and to my publisher Simon & Schuster and all its great designers like Laurent Linn as well as other editors and staff members. Also, thank you to the CSK committee for all your hard work and dedication to ensure that books like I, Too, Am America never get overlooked, but instead are reserved, preserved, and looked upon.
Today I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath as the genius writer and poet Langston Hughes. For me, he had a way of expressing joy, sorrow, and circumstance with such honesty and clarity. I once worked on another Langston Hughes project, Visiting Langston, and in it the author, Willie Perdomo, wrote that Langston:
Sang like love
Cried like blues
That spoke volumes to me, so I was thrilled to illustrate the poem “I, Too, Am America.”
Upon reading as well as dream-walking through the text, I created the images of the Pullman porter and the train, placed in the context of the history of slavery in America and beyond, that serve as a backdrop as well as a vehicle that moves this spare text from yesterday (1900) to current day.
Hughes’s “I, Too, Am America” is a song about hope and promise, about people, land, and country. Illustrated in watercolor and collage, the book is pieced together like a quilt, telling a brief story of men of color rendered invisible, moving from slavery’s cotton fields to working as servants for wealthy white passengers who traveled on these luxury trains that crisscrossed the country. The porters were exposed to a new world of privilege and culture. And by collecting the newspapers, magazines, albums, and other forms of information left behind by these passengers, the porters acted as conduits of culture by distributing the latest news and current events to poor, isolated, and underserved communities, much like their own.
In the book you will see the porter throwing this precious information from the back of the train — notice how the items lyrically soar in the sky through time and space — all the way to Langston’s Harlem, where a little boy sits with his mother on the subway. He turns and metaphorically parts the stripes of the American flag and says, “I, too, am America.”