Jazz Day: Illustrator Francis Vallejo’s 2016 BGHB Picture Book Award Speech

orgill_jazz dayMy sincere thanks to all those who have made this day possible: the wonderful Candlewick team, and my home team — my parents and my remarkable girlfriend. And of course my partner in this project, Roxane! I am truly honored that Jazz Day has received this award.

The arts are in a tricky place. Art programs are being cut or underfunded all across the country. Financing a higher education in the creative fields is a real struggle. Artists need patrons, and, most of all, artists need support.

These past six months since our book came out have been a whirlwind. I would read a positive review and feel on top of the world, and then down in the dumps after reading a bad one. Amidst all of this, after my very first library visit ever as an illustrator, I received an email that knocked me out and set me straight. The email read:

Hello Francis,

I just wanted to let you know that taking the time today with the kids was an awesome thing to do, and I hope as you progress in your career, you continue to do things like this. My daughter Jonnie came home from the event and immediately pulled out the book that she’s writing/illustrating. We talked about rough and final drafts and she can’t wait to have something good enough to send you, the famous illustrator from the library. The boost of confidence that you provided to her with an hour of high-fives and encouragement is worth more to me than you can imagine.

The funny thing is, I remember being disappointed after that event. Only three children had shown up with their parents. I felt a bit underwhelmed. But I did give it my best shot. That thoughtful email taught me that the numbers of books we sell or the crowds that we draw are not nearly as important as the impact our work has on others. Since then I’ve been fortunate to present Jazz Day at various venues, with a hopefully improved attitude. Many times an artist’s personality can be introverted and self-critical. I know it is for me. So with that in mind, please reward these creative people with your attention. When artists share their work, they are putting themselves out there, and they need attentive audiences to support them.

That is why the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award is so significant to me. Your support of Jazz Day, a hard-to-categorize nonfiction book of poetry — with pictures from an illustrator who hadn’t illustrated a book before, and a writer who hadn’t written poetry before — means so much. Roxane and I emphasized authenticity and experimentation and gave it our all. To be rewarded for that is incredibly empowering. This project has changed my life, and organizations like the Boston Globe and the Horn Book will continue to change lives for the better.

So I urge you to identify the artists in your life — the niece who loves to draw monsters, the plein air painter always set up downtown, the sign painter, the aspiring comics artist — and give them a bit of your time. Look, listen, and engage their creations and celebrate their interests. This simple gesture can and will nurture the next generation of artists, and this world desperately needs as many artists as we can get.

Thank you.

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, cover illustration by Francis Vallejo. Read Jazz Day author Roxane Orgill's speech here. For more on the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB16.
Francis Vallejo
Francis Vallejo
Francis Vallejo is the winner of the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Illustrator Award for Jazz Day (Candlewick).

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