Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors and Illustrators: Five Questions for Loveis Wise

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors and Illustrators, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Novelist Ibi Zoboi’s first picture book, The People Remember, explores the meaning of Kwanzaa through the lens of Black American history — centuries of it. Quite a challenge for debut illustrator Loveis Wise.

1. The timespan of The People Remember is hundreds of years. Was that intimidating?

Yes, initially. I needed a lot of time researching and gathering historical photographs in order to understand my approach. Then I realized how important it was to listen to the personal stories of my elders, friends, and family ­members to gain their perspectives on what it means to be Black in ­America. Next, I turned to art and found myself in books like Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach; reading about the women of Gee’s Bend and their quilt masterpieces, which inspired the framework of the book; and visiting the Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power exhibit to connect with how we used our creativity during times of turmoil.

2. There’s a lot of music in this book — did you listen while you worked?

Of course! I shifted between jazz, funk, hip-hop, and R & B, both new & old. I loved listening to Stevie Wonder, Alice Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Minnie Riperton, and Erykah Badu, to name a few, to channel the feelings of Black joy, spirituality, and love.

3. A lot of colors, too, but what’s your favorite?

It’s so hard to choose, but I’m mostly in love with the color pink because of its ­curiousness and vibrancy! It has the ability to touch and soften a person’s heart, which is why I love working with it.

4. Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?

I haven’t celebrated Kwanzaa in its entirety yet, but this year I plan to make it a ­tradition with my loved ones.

5. What did Ibi Zoboi’s text teach you about Black history that you are most grateful to have learned?

I learned a lot about the importance of Kwanzaa and how we use it to celebrate, with intention, our ancestors, values, and identity as a collective. This book served as a call to action to honor our ancestors and remember our history, and for that I am thankful.

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Photo: David Banks and Kendrick Brinson.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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