Publishers' Preview: Picture Books: Five Questions for Angela Joy

This interview originally appeared in the November/December 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Picture Books, 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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“Black is a color. Black is a culture,” writes Angela Joy in Black Is a Rainbow Color, an ode to Blackness illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award winner Ekua Holmes.

1. White people get nervous choosing among “black,” “Black,” and “African American.” What advice can you give us?

My rule of thumb in all social situations is to begin with the formal until given permission to do otherwise. African American is the formal and universally respectful term. However, when a relationship is present, there is room to pose the question: “Which do you prefer?” It’s okay to ask! The person with whom you are speaking may then have the freedom to ask the opposite and equally uncomfortable question, “Which do you prefer: white, Caucasian, or a specific nationality?” We all struggle with labels. In terms of the written word black, I use a capital B when referring to a culture of people.

2. You dedicate your book to “children who ask difficult questions.” What’s the hardest question you’ve ever had to answer?

Recently, my husband and son were discussing what to do if pulled over by law enforcement: “Put your hands on the steering wheel. Don’t make any sudden moves. Tell the officer what you are going to do before you do it.” My son (problem-solving, self-preserving) then asked the question no kid should have to consider: “What if I just keep my license and registration on the dash?”

3. You’re in our holiday issue — remember Megyn Kelly’s infamous “Santa Claus is white. He just is” comment? Is he?

Setting aside the true origins of St. Nicholas (Greek and olive-skinned, not white), and resisting the urge to discuss major historical figures whose skin tone is routinely adjusted without question (Jesus of Nazareth — he’s brown; he just is), I will simply say that Santa Claus is magic, silly! He can go anywhere and look like anyone!

4. You weave a lot of Black cultural history into your book — were those poems and songs part of your childhood?

It wasn’t until college that I discovered the treasure trove that is the work of Nina Simone, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Langston Hughes. But I wanted to expose my own children, and children everywhere, to it at a much younger age. Robust vocabulary, solid chord progressions, lyrical imagery: rich nutrients for the burgeoning soul!

5. Ekua Holmes is a proud Roxbury girl and Boston treasure. Have you met her?

Yes! I had the pleasure of meeting Ekua at a conference. Warm, brilliant, and insightful, Ekua is a national treasure.

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