encomium

26 Aug

My picture book biographies are encomia–also known as paeans or praise songs.

Over the years, I have sung the praises of divas, athletes, jazz legends, photographers and freedom fighters, among them Harriet Tubman, saxophonist John Coltrane, the Obamas, and most recently, Aretha Franklin. I paint my subjects as they might wish to be seen.

Often, my encomia take cues from the subjects themselves. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, illustrated by Frank Morrison, takes its title from, and riffs on, Aretha’s 1967 hit.

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream and You is a call-and-response litany of virtues and values. And Before John Was A Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane blows like a saxophone.

Vivid verbs rev up Racing Against the Odds: The Story of Wendell Scott, Stock Car Racing’s African-American Champion, illustrated by Eric Velasquez.

And my biographies of photographers are deliberately cinematic.

My classic biography, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, follows Harriet’s spiritual quest. With allusions to African-American spirituals, the narrative unfolds through conversations between Harriet and God.

Stay tuned for my first encomium to a writer, and more to women leaders and to natives of Maryland and North Carolina, states I call home.

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