encomium

26 Aug

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

My biographies 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, riffs on, and takes its title from, 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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