Lift Every Voice: In the Presence of Royalty

My heart was racing like Secretariat, even though I had practiced my acceptance speech, as I nervously approached the podium. They had called my name to receive the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for my work on The Origin of Life on Earth: An African Creation Myth. The CSK Breakfast was held in New Orleans in 1993. Mrs. King did not attend every one of those annual breakfasts. But that year, she was sitting to my right with a joyful gaze, eager to hear my words along with eight hundred librarians and the amazing winners on the dais. I was in the presence of royalty, and it was thrilling.

As artist and illustrator, I poured all of myself onto the pages of this inspiring story about the creation of the world from the Yoruba tradition, even the memories of how I became the artist who would be chosen for such a prestigious award.

My artistic path began when my aunt, who was my sixth-grade teacher, said to me, “I see an Artist in you!” She had the pure heart of a teacher, seeing beyond and into the purpose for the life of every child, highlighting their gifts, then pointing them in the right direction. She planted in them seeds of purpose. My seeds took root and turned into desire. It was a desire to become who she saw in me, an Artist.

She noticed how I held my pencil, the care and precision of my penmanship, the colors I selected when it was time to create art, and the way I put shapes together in unusual ways. (We must all learn to pay close attention to our children and help them see themselves from within.) I remember the feeling of pleasure and fulfillment of creating something on my own, out of nothing.

Artists have an intuitive way of marrying their emotions to their vision and imagination, and then by technique, processing their thoughts into an artistic expression. This intuitive way is closely connected to our creator’s way of bringing beauty, structure, balance, and spiritual connection into the world. If well done, the art will, by virtue of the Spirit, live on for generations. As I completed those magical days in my aunt’s classroom, my roots grew even deeper. I loved all my art classes through to my senior year of high school. That year, my art teacher took us on a field trip to his studio. This further informed the vision of imagining myself as a professional artist. I just knew it.

This year marks my thirty-fifth year as a professional artist. The Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award is a jewel in my crown. With The Origin of Life on Earth I was determined to create something so beautiful and heartwarming that our children would know that they are made up of heavenly parts from a glorious kingdom. That each of them is a living soul by the breath of the Spirit and is shaped by the Divine from an African perspective. By illustrating this book, I hope in some small way I have played a part in building their character, precepts, and potential, so that magical things happen to their souls’ delight.

From the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: CSK Book Awards at 50. Find more information about ordering copies of the special issue.

Kathleen Atkins Wilson
Kathleen Atkins Wilson won the 1993 CSK Illustrator Award for The Origin of Life on Earth: An African Creation Myth (Sights Productions). Her forthcoming book is The Musical Journey of the African Diaspora from Antiquity to Modernity.

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