On the final day of Fordham University's literacy institute I had the privilege of introducing children's author/illustrator Bryan Collier. In welcoming him I stated that it seemed only appropriate to close our sessions by celebrating rich and interesting children's literature (since for the past two weeks we had been investigating current research to help young readers meet the challenges inherent in learning to read).
Here we were given the opportunity to explore the very thing we wanted our students to have in their hands - authentic literature written with purpose.
There was studied silence as Bryan spoke to the crowd of educators seated in the Pope Auditorium. At first I thought "Oh, he is losing them" and I felt responsible for this somehow. After all, I was the one to suggest his presence as our closing speaker in the first place. I had just introduced him and now I thought "he is bombing. What should I do?" But as I looked around I slowly began to realize that the silence was not the result of a lack of interest. The silence was an indication that everyone was listening intently to his message.
Bryan Collier was taking us on a journey whose pace was deliberate and unfolded like a good novel. He became introspective at times as he searched for the perfect word to best describe his meaning. He spoke of passion and destiny. He spoke of purpose and fulfillment. He spoke of making connections and creating a legacy.
He began by asking who among us wanted to write or illustrate a children's book. A spattering of hands went up with varying degrees of enthusiasm. This was followed by his query
"What have you done about it?"
Oops, we weren't expecting that. Nobody had much to offer - although I did say that I had put a partial story up on my blog. He laughed and continued. He recalled a visit to an elementary school where, upon his arrival, he was greeted by a horde of children who told him they had been eagerly waiting for him. Then they added,
"We have been waiting for you all of our lives".
He shared this to encourage those of us who have a story in us or a message to relate that there are others out there who are waiting for it. And the longer we delay, the longer that someone will have to wait. We have no idea who we can touch with what we share. Many times we will never know. But, we have an obligation to put it out there. I thought that was a powerful message.
Bryan Collier has gained recognition and well deserved respect for his watercolor and collage illustrations in a wealth of children's books based on the lives of influential historical figures including John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and the soon to be released Son of Promise, Child of Hope about Barack Obama. He told me he has 32 books already published or about to be published. Not bad for a man who spent 7 years receiving rejection notices before he caught a break with his first publication, the story of a young boy and his Harlem home titled Uptown.
Bryan's illustrations edify the words and provide a subtle, understated subtext all their own. As in the way he created silhouettes in the landscape of Rosa to indicate that "even the earth called out for justice".
We could have stayed thoroughly engrossed for much longer but we reluctantly gave way to the predetermined schedule of the day. For me this meant bringing the session to a close and announcing that Mr. Collier would be happy to autograph copies of his books in the front of the auditorium.
I was first in line with three books (more would have seemed greedy) and my camera - see picture on left.
So, I urge all of you would be writers (blogs count!) to continue to get your message out there and if you have not yet done so, get moving. You don't know who is waiting to receive what you have to offer.