No Crystal Stair: Illustrator R. Gregory Christie's 2012 BGHB Fiction Award Speech

R. Gregory ChristieVaunda, I’m happy to be onstage with you once again. Keep it up, Mrs. Micheaux Nelson, because knock on wood, we are on a roll!

I’d like to take the opportunity to tell Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about my deep respect for her talent. The images for No Crystal Stair were a direct result of her storytelling, and those scratchy blotted ink lines simply flowed due to her superb documentary novel’s narration.

Vaunda really expanded my mind with Lewis’s story and the possibility to achieve greater heights in life no matter what the circumstances. The novel is inspirational to me, and Lewis is such a fascinating character. The story of this Harlem bookseller is a story I’d like many people to know, and I trust that the book will live on for generations to come.

I often tell people that when it comes to my choices in projects, I do the books that I wish that I had had when I was a child. Books like No Crystal Stair are among a long line of children’s books that speak of American history, the good and bad of it. It’s a story about a pretty eccentric straight shooter who comes across so charming to me that he inspires me to take a chance and to feel proud about my culture, ethnicity, and history. But beyond my own feelings, I want people, especially children of color, to feel a confidence in their own skin, hair, features, ancestors, and culture.

It’s my feeling that a man like Lewis, who seemed to be a strong proponent of gaining knowledge and finding a love for all things “black,” would be happy with this homage. Throughout the story you get a feeling that he was highly intelligent, a product of his environment and a person that took whatever was available to him and made it his own. I felt truly inspired by the man’s story, and I love that the book touches on so many historical figures who knew the value of that store and what Lewis was building.

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson "No Crystal Stair"But once again it’s a history that seems lost in our modern times; most of the young people who I spoke to about this project didn’t know about Lewis and found his personality and biography interesting. It is my hope that this book will be a part of many others that will help to build a counterbalance to our schools’ history curriculums. We are in the American melting pot, and our mesh of culture should incorporate a mesh of stories. With such a diversity of ethnic groups in our 3.79 million square miles, we should have heroes of many color shades. The history of the Native American names of our states and towns shouldn’t have died with the people they were named after. Inventions and discoveries from people of color should also stay in all of our minds as strongly as we know the names of the founding fathers.

I feel that books such as No Crystal Stair help to create another viewpoint for our history lessons, and awards such as the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards help to keep these books alive.

I’d like to thank the committee and Roger Sutton for this designation; it’s a true honor and I know it couldn’t have been an easy decision to make. I am ecstatic to be in such great company of award winners whose work I’ve known and admired for quite a while. It’s never easy for a painter to go from the solitude of his studio on to a stage full of focused eyes and attentive ears, but when all has been said and seeps into a distant memory, it feels amazing to be honored along with some amazing talent.

I also send my highest respect and gratitude to Lerner Publishing for giving me the opportunity to work on this project. Thank you to Harry and Adam Lerner for their support with all my projects with the company. A huge thanks to Andrew Karre for his editing and vision to pull things together from sketches and a manuscript to the book we see today. Also immense thanks to Danielle Carnito. One never knows what a graphic designer will do to a series of paintings and words, but Danielle hit it out of the park. Thank you to Simmons College and to the Horn Book for hosting this event, and thank you to everyone hearing these words, and let’s keep reading and protect our libraries.

This speech was originally delivered on September 28, 2012, at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Ceremony at Simmons College. Click here for author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's acceptance speech for No Crystal Stair.
R. Gregory Christie
R. Gregory Christie
R. Gregory Christie is the illustrator of the 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Award Winning book No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

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