Brooklyn Artists Share Their Stories

On May 5th, CLASC sponsored the program “Illustrating Books for Diverse Audiences” at the Long Island Library Conference. What a treat it was to hear from three different artists all united by a passion for representing the diverse community they observe everyday in their Brooklyn communities.

Pat Cummings had the audience laughing with a story of how, as a child, she had a tendency to get in trouble. At the age of four, she decided to travel – unaccompanied – on the bus across town with a group of older girls attending a ballet class. She joined in the class, twirling and leaping and thoroughly enjoying herself. At the end of the class, the teacher pinned a note to Cummings’s shirt and sent her back on the bus. When the little girl arrived home, her frantic mother discovered the note which simply read: “Please don’t send her back.” Cummings, who is a warm, funny, and eloquent speaker, did more than merely entertain her audience – she showed how she developed into an artist who values the importance of including all children in books for young people.  

R. Gregory Christie followed with an equally passionate talk about his artistic goals. In a world that bombards us with violent images that are often thoughtlessly presented, Christie endeavors to bring “another type of extreme” to his artwork. Christie means to communicate, to “take something that you know about and find the beauty in it.” By finding beauty and sharing it with the world through children’s books, album covers, and editorials, Christie brings some sense of balance to the images presented to people of all ages.

Following these two impressive speakers was Selena Alko, who charmed us with her personal story about her journey as an artist. Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Alko has found New York City to be wonderfully “diverse and stimulating.” Alko, who is married to illustrator Sean Qualls, has done portraits of musicians such as Mick Jagger and Macy Gray for magazines. In the book I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother, Alko’s first published book as the author and illustrator, she tells the story of her growing family, featuring her son Isaiah as the protagonist. The success of this book has led to Alko writing and illustrating full-time, and her forthcoming book “B is for Brooklyn” promises to be another celebration of diversity.

The artists are as genuine and kind-hearted as they are talented. I could have listened to them all day, and I suspect others in the appreciative audience felt the same way. Many thanks to CLASC for arranging a stellar program and the artists for sharing their art and their stories.

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