Publishers' Preview: Fall 2021: Five Questions for Veronica Chambers

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Fall 2021, 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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Clarion

In Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter, written with Jennifer Harlan, Veronica Chambers tells the story of a social movement that is changing the world.

1. What was the greatest challenge in getting current events between hardcovers?

Figuring out what to immortalize when the story of the 2020 Black Lives Matter ­protests was changing and growing every day. That’s why the decision to lean in on The New York Times’s amazing photography was so meaningful to us. This is what the great photojournalists saw; and while we wrote text that put the movement in broad historical context, each photo tells a deep and powerful story of its own.

2. From such a media-saturated movement, there are so many pictures to choose among. How did you?

Photo editor Anika Burgess, my coauthor Jennifer Harlan, and I had worked on The Times’s Past Tense project. We had a history of sifting through photos and discussing what moved us. Most of the time, the pictures we loved the most, we all had the same reaction to. What was hard was winnowing it down.

3. When you were twelve years old, who was your hero?

When I was twelve in 1980s Brooklyn, one of my heroes was my ­then-Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. (I published a picture book about her last year called Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb!) I also admired the remarkable array of African American writers ­publishing at that time, in particular Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Toni ­Morrison. They were my Fab Four.

4. What didn’t you know about BLM that writing this book has taught you?

It emphasized for me that BLM shifted the idea of racism as being about a “bad apple” or a “bad chapter in history” into a deeply rooted dynamic, tied to our culture, economy, and government. I hope this book is a tool for kids and adults to make a similar shift.

5. Are you hopeful?

I’m incredibly hopeful. What I’ve learned from our history is that African Americans are in the business of Hope. Every decade, every chapter of the history of Black people in this country is infused with countless moments of hope, resilience, and creativity.

Sponsored by

Clarion

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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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