Publishers’ Preview: Diverse Voices Redux: Five Questions for Jerry Pinkney

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Voices Redux, 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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How do you depict a man who has been depicted so widely and well as Martin Luther King Jr.? In A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech that Inspired a Nation (written by Barry Wittenstein), Jerry Pinkney finds out.

Photo: Thomas Kristich.

1. Do you take Dr. King’s thoughts on sermons (“the hardest part is knowing where to end”) to heart as a painter?

That is the point where my artistic practice is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. It is the not knowing that fuels creativity. There is no formula — it’s intuitive, and it’s essential that I trust my instincts. I do have a tendency to keep adding to the image. I often have to say STOP and turn the creative juices off.

2. Many artists (including your son Brian, just last year) have depicted Dr. King. Was it hard to find your own portrayal?

I found that I needed to block out what others had done and focus on the spirit of Dr. King’s words. I crafted the portraits with reverence for his auditory brilliance — immediate, energetic, with great elegance and determination. I wanted the drawings to feel like Dr. King was speaking directly to the reader.

3. You always do what our grade-school art teachers told us to do: fill the page! How do you maintain focus in a picture?

It is in the composition. That is especially true if the image has a good number of figures or a complex setting. Other times, the focus is achieved with the palette, by using a dominant color where I want the viewer’s eye to go first.

4. Jerry, you’ve won everything: Coretta Scott King; Boston Globe–Horn Book; Caldecotts both gold and silver. Which one meant the most?

Each of these honors carries its own value, its own sense of importance. This Horn Book issue is wrapped around the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and their mission of highlighting inclusivity. That’s what most of my work is about, so the CSK Book Awards are high on the list. But when the light reflects off the engraved silver bowl I received for the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, it’s close to being a tie.

5. What’s your dream?

My dream is to do the best possible work in my power and that this effort serves a purpose and in an important way nurtures our youth. Also, to have my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all children of the world be valued, that we as caretakers provide for them a bridge of hope and an ark of promise.

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