Another interview online, with Keith D. Shepherd. Online at brownbookshelf.com - A Black History Celebration of Children's and YA Literature.
book was featured in "In the Spotlight," in Library Sparks, February,
2012. There are many book and curriculum connections suggested in
that article. This page shares the interview with the illustrator of Walking Home to Rosie Lee, Keith D. Shepherd.
An Interview with Keith D. Shepherd (September 19, 2011) by Sharron L. McElmeel
SLM: What was the media that you used for the original illustrations for Walking Home to Rosie Lee?
KS: All the illustrations are acrylic paint on thick illustration
boards. I use acrylics because they dry fast which is helpful when
faced with a tight deadline. Thick boards because the illus. can be
carefully peeled off the backing then wrapped around a scanner drum for
SLM: When you paint illustrations such as these do you utilize
models and photography to give you the form and shadows etc.?
KS: Yes, I use quite a bit of photography combined with digital
graphics. Once I compose the page based on the prose I set my subject
and take a picture. Then I scan the image into my computer and place
the figures into a setting. Sometimes that can be an actual sketch or a
vintage photo. Once there I can manipulate the direction, color, light
or shadow in Photoshop to fit my needs. Then I print it out and
transfer to the board with graphite paper. Tweak the drawing a bit
more, spray fix the image then began painting. Laborious but
preparation is key.
SLM: If so, do you use family and friends as models?
KS: My models were kids of friends and family and students when I
taught school. Family were of my brothers and myself as children.
Though well fed we tended to have that malnourished look. Mom just said
we had a high metabolism. Dad said we were just high strung.
SLM: What type of research did you have to do to "picture" the setting in post-Civil War Tennessee (and Cleveland)?
KS: I consider myself somewhat a history buff especially African
American. Movies, documentaries, the internet and still one of my
favorite places to go, the LIBRARY proved invaluable to my research.
Black folks still have so many stories to tell in our journey. When I
first read Alexandria manuscript I'm not ashamed to say I got choked
up. I'm amazed there's never been anything done before that told such a
heart wrenching segment of Reconstruction in America.
SLM: Do you have any picture books in the works?
KS: Walking Home To Rosie Lee is the first official children's book to
feature my artwork. I have a few small, small, very small press things
I've done for my church but that's it. I'm now writing and illustrating
a story about my special needs little brother when we were children.
It's all about unconditional love and family. No publisher as of yet
but I'm hopeful.
Final comment from KS
I'm a painter, illustrator, educator and graphic designer residing
in Kansas City Missouri. I'm part of a Kansas City based art collective
called 'The Light In The Room' that feature writers, painters and
sculptors. I work out of a few galleries mostly here in the city
including the American Jazz Museum and the Negro League Baseball
Museum. My artistic influences are too numerous to mention but
Archibald Motley, Fletcher Martin, Thomas Blackshear, Ernie Barnes, NC
Wyeth and Thomas Hart Benton to name a few. Art, music and faith offers
me a way out of no way! I feel honored and blessed to have Cinco Puntos
Press to deem me worthy to bring Ms. LaFaye's words to life.
An Interview with A. LaFaye (September 19, 2011) by Sharron L. McElmeel
Interviewers Note: A. LaFaye maintains a website at <www.alafaye.com>
where information about all of her books and information that develops
after this interview may be found. The first day I read Walking Home to Rosie Lee I knew I wanted more people to know about it. The book is the focus in my column "In the Spotlight" in Library Sparks, February 2012.
I LOVE the lyrical prose and was intrigued with the topic. As
many years as I taught US History to young scholars, I never once
focused on the separation of families -- what an oversight. I
think this is a very important topic and this book is so wonderfully
written (and illustrated) I would like others to know about the book.
ALaFaye: You touched on the exact reason I wrote the book and fought to
find a publisher. So many publishers rejected the book saying, "We
already have two many books on this subject" meaning slavery. To
me, Reconstruction and reunification of families is a new topic that
hasn't been adequately covered at all. I addressed the issue in
my novel Stella Stands Alone as a subplot, but I really
thought that it should be featured in a picture book to introduce the
topic to a younger audience who need to know about the courageous and
determined family members who did so much to find their kin.
SLM: Did Gabe and Rosie Lee actually exist or are they representative?
are representative of so many folks who made similar journeys. I
remember how struck I was by the story of William Stillwell whose
mother escaped slavery when she was pregnant with him, but had to leave
her older sons behind because they'd been caught every time they tried
to run free together. As an adult, Stillwell helped families
reunite and one day a man came to him to find his mother and Stillwell
slowly realized the man was his own brother. I'll never forget that
story. Unfortunately, it didn't end well. The brother was abducted and
returned to slavery under the Fugitive Slave Act and Stillwell spent
the rest of his brother's life trying, unsuccessfully to get him free.
SLM: I know you address the subject of separated families in Stella Stands Alone.
Specifically is Gabe's story based directly on one of the stories you
found? And if so, in what type of resource did you find his story
topic of reunification of families is addressed in most of the books
about Reconstruction, but there is usually only a sentence or two in
various entries. For instance, in a section on Freedman's
Bureaus, they might mention that one of the roles they had was in
helping families who were trying to find lost members. There was
also a good deal about the role of African American Newspapers
--Abolitionist and Reconstruction era--in helping African American's
find family members and the fact that so many of them were separated
for so long, they only remembered things like first names, scars,
places of birth or sale and number of family members at the time of the
SLM: The research I found about separated children says: "Michael Tadman's well-researched adult reference Speculators And Slaves: Masters, Traders, And Slaves In The Old South
(University of Wisconsin Press, 1989) tells us that 50% of the children
under 14 were separated from their family, by the slave trade." Does
this match with your findings -- and any idea of how many families were
reunited after slavery ends?
didn't come across any statistics of that kind. Reunification
doesn't generate any documents, so there's no clear way to track
that. Here are some books that might be helpful:
- The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South
(The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture)
by Dylan C. Penningroth (Hardcover - Dec 9, 2002) Buy new: $69.95
- In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South (New Narratives in American History) by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger
- From Slavery to Freedom, John Hope Franklin & Alfred A. Moss, Jr. McGraw Hill
SLM: I know you
have written many novels -- and this is your first picture book, what
books are you working on now? Any new picture books coming?
now (September 2011), I'm working on a novel in verse that's a
retelling of the myth of Cassandra set in a Southern coal mining
community in 1911, but it's not under contract with any
publisher. I'd love to do more picture books, but I don't have
anything lined up at the moment.
A Final Note from the Author Alexandria LaFaye: It's important for the
"silenced" parts of history to be uncovered, understood, and
shared. This is an amazing chapter in the history of African
American families and I hope my book will inspire other folks to come
forward to share their stories about this period in history.
appreciation to both Keith D. Shepherd and Alexandria LaFaye for their
gracious and thoughtful responses to the interview questions. I
hope each of you will find reading the interview AND their book to be
of great interest. It IS a chapter in history that must not
be missed. Excerpts from these interviews were the basis for
comments included in an
"In the Spotlight" feature in Library Sparks,
February 2012. More information including a critical review of
the title and curriculum ideas can be located in that issue; and a
summary of the title is included on an entry on <mcbookwords.blogspot.com>. Please seek out the Library Sparks article.