Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Visit From Bryan Collier

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.


ciara said...

what a wonderful story. i love bryan's perseverance. the artwork i awesome.

do you not think having THREE books signed was greedy? LOL JK i would have probably brought ALL my books. :)

Barbara said...

I can easily see you writing and publishing children's books. Maybe you could collaborate with Bryan to illustrate them!

Dumdad said...

Inspiring stuff for the children. For all of us.

Steve said...

You're so right -- as was Bryan. It's hard to get motivated sometimes, but there's no reason not to start!

Joy Keaton said...

Completely off-topic: I love that orange shirt on you. And here I thought eggplant was your color!

I know. I'm shallow, but remember my 'children's books' were all about catholicism or written by Poe. So you know...

Anonymous said...

Super site - thanks for all the hard work! I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks and DiscoveryBoxBooks (which is a special Olympic edition) They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days:,, Enjoy!

Janelle said...

great site! so happy to have found it via enriching enlightening and amusing! will be back for more! x janelle

Bob Dylan said...

Just stopping by to say hello and wish you and yours good health and good wishes,



WAT said...

That's a nice orange shirt there stud. Mr. Collier illustrated children's book on John Lennon? HOW COOL IS THAT?! I must find/see this now!

Mona said...

I am in deep awe with the children's book illustrators, because they have such fanciful & wonderful imaginative minds & so much talent in their hands!
Three cheers for Bryan!

Gary I have an award for you at my blog!

Reya Mellicker said...

Without reading and writing, I don't know what I would do, or who i would be. Wonderful and inspirational, dah-ling.

Pauline said...

I'm better at kids' poetry than stories... now I will have to write enough to make a manuscript's worth, either that or try to figure out why I haven't done it yet.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

thanks....definitely going to check out bc's books... he sounds like a terrific speaker to have as a tourguide, thanks for sharing the experience.


Gary said...

Ciara - Actually 3 was all of the books I owned by him :) Although I am going to add to that collection.

Barbara - It was interesting to hear Bryan tell of how a collaboration is set-up between author and illustrator. The publishers actually make those decisions and most of the time the creative team of author and illustrator never meet. So the 'vision' of each of them may not be a shared one which Byran says can actually add an interesting dimension (and sometimes it is not a happy mesh).

Dumdad - Thanks. I'm sure you could illustrate a story with your cartoons.

Steve - Whenever I think of authors getting to their work I always come back to Dickens who would sit at the table at dinner parties and write. Constantly at it. Of course he was a genius but it is true that the more you write, the better you get at it.

Joy - Eggplant and the rust tones work well for me but heaven forbid I should wear anything red. Oh, and I love your children's book experience - you should have included a link to your stories with your comment.

Book - Thanks for visiting. I like Helen Oxenbury and will check out the Storybox series. Like you I am always "on the hunt for great children's books".

Janelle - Thanks for visiting. I went over to visit you today and return the complement.

Bob - Thanks! I can use all of the support I can get at the moment.

Wat - I have not seen the John Lennon book yet but I knew you would be interested in that one. I am sure it is wonderful judging from Bryan's other work. Let me know if you find it and what you think.

Mona - Thanks for passing along the Art e Pico award. I went over to the origin of it however and since it is all in Spanish I didn't understand anything. I already know that for this reason and many others Wat is going to be among the five who I pass it along to. Whenever I get around to actually doing that (which could be months).

Reya - Well, you need no prodding, that is certain. I don't know how you and others like Kimy, Barbara and Steve have the discipline (or 'material') to blog everyday. Amazing.

Pauline - The pressure is on - lol. Now that you have two blogs it may be more of a challenge.

Kim - I think you would enjoy his work, especially since you are detail oriented in your art. He give the reader lots to experience.

Pod said...

hey.....hope everything is ok

lettuce said...

"we have been waiting for you all of our lives" - what a wonderful thing to be told.

i think i've been waiting for blogging - and some of you bloggers - for much of my life.


love and hugs to you gary


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