Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the multi-talented author Nancy Churnin. She tells us about her latest book, Beautiful Shades of Brown, the Art of Laura Wheeler Warin, published by Creston Books.
Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I began working on this book in 2016. I took it to workshops, submitted it to editors that told me it was too quiet which is funny in a way because Waring was a quiet person and some people think she didn’t get her due because she preferred to speak through her paintbrush. I put it aside. My agent, Karen Grencik, connected with an editor who was looking for “hidden voices” – people that had been overlooked and were deserving of having their stories told. The editor loved it and we worked on revisions before going to acquisitions. We didn’t make it through acquisitions, but the very next editor I sent the revised manuscript to Marissa Moss at Creston Books, who loved it and felt it was good to go. I was thrilled when she found Felicia Marshall to do the illustrations. Felicia channels Laura Wheeler Waring’s heart, style and brilliance with colors. I am happy that Beautiful Shades of Brown found the right home and the perfect illustrator.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I fell in love with a painting of Marian Anderson. I had been wondering why there weren’t more books about female painters. When I discovered this painting I loved was by Laura Wheeler Waring, I felt compelled to learn everything I could about her. The more I learned the more I wanted to know and the more I wanted to share what I knew about this amazing artist who used her paintbrush to change perceptions of African Americans in segregated America and whose artwork can now be seen and enjoyed in major museums, including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Art Museum in Washington D.C. and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pa.
What is your writing process like, and does it change depending on the project?
The process changes depending on the project and where I am on my writing journey, but some things do remain the same. I research until I find the heart of the story – the part that resonates with me and that I hope will resonate with the kids. I make notes. I write through. I edit and research more. I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, sometimes on my computer, sometimes in longhand. When I feel I’ve taken it as far as I can, I run it by my critique partners to get their feedback and revise again.
What draws you to the world of nonfiction? Do you ever write fiction?
I am drawn to the forgotten people, the people who were left out of the history books that deserve to be known. I feel a personal mission to shine a light on them. I have recently been increasingly drawn to the world of historical fiction, which would allow me to embroider stories that might have happened against a historical backdrop. That’s one of the genres I hope to work on more going forward. As for fiction, I love to read it – who knows – maybe one day I will write that, too.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Laura looked at Marian and saw again the teenager singing so soulfully years ago. She heard again the music in all its beautiful shades of brown. She felt the melody travel down her fingers as she dipped her brush into the paints of her palette and found the exact luminous shade of Marian’s beautiful brown skin, her gown, the room.”
Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have a second book coming out in 2020, For Spacious Skies, Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful” (April 1 from Albert Whitman & Company), which tells the story of the poet, professor and suffragette who fought for equal rights, including a woman’s right to vote, and gave her poem, “America the Beautiful” to America as a gift. I have a new book, A Queen to the Rescue: the Story of Henrietta Szold, coming out in fall of 2021 from Creston Books/Lerner Books. I hope to keep writing, creating, visiting, sharing and empowering children. I offer free teacher guides and create projects for each book. I would love to see myself both sharing stories about heroes and encouraging kids to be heroes of kindness in their schools and communities.
Please share your favourite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you? For classics, The Hobbit is a wonderful example of a quest story You have an unlikely hero that inspires no confidence in anyone (including himself); only the wise wizard sees past appearances. He faces challenges on the way to achieving his goal. He achieves the goal in an unexpected way that changes his perception of the world and who he is. Finally he returns home, but in the spirit of T.S. Eliot: “…the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” For contemporary books, one of my favorites is The Color Purple. That, too, is a quest story of sorts, with the heroine on a journey to discover her own strength and self-worth.
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
If your heart beats with your characters, your heart will continue to beat in that story after you send it into the world — and children will pick up that beat and know it for their own.
Nancy Churnin is the award-winning author of eight picture book biographies, with a ninth on its way, including a Junior Library Guild selection, a Sydney Taylor Notable, a South Asia Book Award winner, an Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award pick, a Notable Book for a Global Society selection and two National Council for the Social Studies Notables and two Silver Eureka Award winners. Her books have been on multiple state reading lists and she has presented at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the Ruby Bridges Reading Festival at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., the Tulisoma Book Fair at the African American Museum in Dallas and the New York City School Librarians Conference. Nancy graduated cum laude from Harvard University, has a masters from Columbia University and lives in Plano, Texas with her husband, their dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats.
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beautiful-shades-of-brown-nancy-churnin/1133250747?ean=9781939547651
Interabang Books: https://www.interabangbooks.com/book/9781939547651
Lerner Books: https://lernerbooks.com/shop/show/19649
Express Booksellers: https://expressbooksellers.com/kids-books/
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