Since I frequently think the Q & A is the best part of a presentation, I’m doing both parts today for my blog.
Mississippi Book Festival 2017 hosted a display of the original art from Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day from the archives of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. Curator Ellen Ruffin asked me. “Would you be willing to take a turn minding the paintings, passing out brochures, and answering questions?” She didn’t have to ask me twice!
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions during my turn on duty and my answers.
Q: You mean Keats was not black? (The brochure had his picture which destroyed a common assumption that only a black author would put a black child in The Snowy Day and its sequels, especially in 1960.)
A: Keats was Jewish. He saw children outside his Brooklyn window from many different cultures and thought they should be represented in books. When asked why he put a black child in his first children’s book, The Snowy Day, he always gave the same answer, “Because he should have been there all along.”
Q: Are these copies of his art?
A. I invited them to look closer at this point and see the lines of the paper collages that he had glued together to form the art. These were not copies but the original paintings he did for the book and are housed with the original paintings for his other children’s books in the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.
Q. Are they ever all exhibited at one time?
A. That would take more space than one is likely to find. There have been large traveling exhibits with much of his work in several museums in the United States and several years ago in Japan. Other examples of his work are rotated in the de Grummond exhibit room at the Cook Library at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Q. Was he from Mississippi?
A. No, he grew up in Brooklyn and lived there all his life except for almost a year in Paris where he studied painting and a stint in Tampa, Florida during World War II in the Army.
Q. Then how did his art get here?
A. In 1980, he came to the University of Southern Mississippi to receive their annual medallion at the children’s book festival given to a children’s author or illustrator who has made a significant contribution to children’s literature. He and the librarians formed a solid friendship that eventually led to placement of his archives in the de Grummond where they would be valued, cared for, and shared with researchers and children’s book lovers.