Thursday, September 29, 2011

Heroes who look like my kids!

Ever since I got pregnant with The Boy, I've been looking more purposefully for books that feature black and mixed-race children. My friends, I have found a book I love (and it has a sequel!).
I recently finished The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, author of the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series. All I knew was it was about "kids and Egyptian gods" instead of "kids and Greek gods." Fine. I know the basic gods; I was a kid during the big King Tut exhibit in the 1970s.
"... he has dark brown skin like mine..." Hey, bonus! The boy in the story is black. A central character is black. Excellent. Oh, two characters: he has a sister. Then on page seven:
"You would never guess she's my sister... our mom, who was white..."

I kid you not when I say I did a double-take.

Like I said, I was a kid during the Seventies. Ever hear Steve Martin's "King Tut?" Listen to the lyrics at 1:04.
Yes, that was my favorite line. But I point it out because the cultural assumption is that characters are White Until Proven Otherwise. You know, the assumption I made, in 2011, about The Red Pyramid's characters until the author said otherwise.
It's not impossible to find children of color featured in books, especially for toddlers.
But try finding one featuring a child of African heritage as the main character(s)... where racial tension is not the whole story. One that features a boy, not a girl; I can only assume "race + boy" is a more threatening combo to publishers than "race + girl." I adored the best-selling The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. But in her gracious email back to me, she didn't know of any fiction about biracial boys. So finding books that reflect my kids' existence back to them will continue to be an uphill climb.
High-five to Riordan for bringing up these issues:
  • People of color in the same family don't always have the same skin tones or hair
  • Boys of African heritage are less likely to receive the benefit of the doubt from strangers
  • Black parents often insist their children be appropriately groomed before going out in public, because of said suspicion around black kids.

A couple of quibbles with the book:
  • It went all Disney and killed off the mom right away (yes, I know: Drama!)
  • The brother is visibly ethnic and the sister looks white. Convenient -- no hair-related self-esteem issues! (Yes, I know it's an adventure story.)

There are other issues I wonder about (side-stepping the ethnic angle in the cover art and plot summary). But others have written about publishers' decisions which the author may not have had control over. And if the sequels sell well, maybe other publishers will realize Adventuring While Black or Biracial is not a barrier to a book's success.

Throne of Fire should be on our doorstep any day now. Riordan's site says the third (!) is due out in 2012.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Apples and honey

Happy Rosh Hashanah! Gut Yom Tov!

Aaaand that's pretty much the limit of my Hebrew and Yiddish for this holiday.

We don't do a huge celebration of the High Holidays, for a few reasons: The Boy is just old enough to be interested in why we celebrate, and I'd rather have The Husband take the lead on Jewish holidays since I'm the designated Christian in the house. He's not big on organized religion, and The Boy is just barely old enough to last through a High Holidays service. So tonight will be about family time, a Hebrew blessing before we eat, and a home-cooked meal (which may involve, um, some non-kosher stuff).

If you're celebrating tonight/tomorrow, how are you celebrating? Let me know in the comments. For those not celebrating... happy Wednesday!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Off to a new "Destination"

"If at first you succeed... try not to look surprised." -- Unknown
I can't help it. There I am, words and picture, in a book written by someone I know and love...
and she even cited me as a quoted source...
... with my contact info so you can read more of my mad ravings here.

Whoa. Thank you, Ricë!

Reading Destination: Creativity makes me feel like I'm floating in space, marveling at the stars around me, with no idea of what'll happen next. Well, I'm sure the book will give me some sort of road map.
Gotta keep my eyes on the road. I'm heading into the Artful Texas! chapter.

Tell me what you think: about the retreats you've attended, the ones you've never been to, about setting up your own mini-retreat. I'll be checking for you in the comments! I'm also on Twitter and Facebook -- just click the buttons at the top right of the blog.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

ICON viewing

Oh, this opening at Fraker/Scott Gallery was so much fun! I love it when people get together to talk art...
and my friends come on down to share the fun! (Say hi to my pal Sarah, art aficionado.)
For the opening of the ICON exhibit, the gallerists placed the two halves of my diptych like the sides of a door frame...
with another memory piece above, like a lintel at the top of the door.
Some of the "icons" were more traditional (can you call contemporary art traditional?), like Tracy Fraker's "Madonna of the New York Shopper"...
 while others leaned more obviously toward pop culture, like the reimagined flag by Stephanie Nicoll Reilly...
and this photocollage transfer print by Iskra Johnson.
Great turnout for the opening, which was timed to coincide with Seattle's First Thursday Art Walk.
Such an interesting mix of people: hipsters walking their offspring, experienced art patrons, art students with more styling product than cash.
You can see my work all this month, but the next big event will be on September 24th, from 5pm to 7pm. That's the awards reception. My pieces are "... rich in history: thoughtful, funky and totally original," according to Tracy, on the Fraker/Scott Facebook page. Come see for yourself!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Let your art freak-flag fly!

Finally, finally finally... I can talk up Ricë's new book because Destination Creativity is available for pre-order!
Courtesy North Light Books
If you've never been to an art retreat -- and that was me, until the fall of 2007 -- this book is a wonderful way to dip into the intoxicating whirl of creativity you find at the best events. Ricë Freeman-Zachery is the wordsmith; Earl Zachery is the visuals guy.
They set out on a nationwide odyssey a couple of years ago, visiting most of the big art and craft retreats, including Artfest 2010. Destination: Creativity -- The Life-Altering Journey of the Art Retreat is the result, and I've contributed a small part to this work! You can't miss me -- when you order your copy (hint hint) you'll see your very own version of me and Ricë making crazy-face, next to my thoughts about the transformative aspect of art retreats.

I met Ricë and Earl waaaay way back in 2007 at my first retreat, Art & Soul Portland. Earl offered me a seat so I could rest my feet during Vendor Night, and when Ricë saw me she decided I look just like their niece. (Read more about it here, and be sure to read the comments.) Then it took three whole years to meet again, when they braved the chilly dampness of Fort Worden to cover Artfest 2010.
It took me a while to scrape together the money and the resolve to go to my first retreat, and I know (oh God, do I know) it's a commitment of money as well as time. But think about this: many attendees save all year to go learn new techniques and see old friends they can't hang with otherwise, because it's worth it.

Humans need designated spaces and times to cut loose, be different, change things up from the everyday. It's why we have Ash Wednesday as well as Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras.
And it's a huge reason why I just signed up for Artfest 2012. You could meet me there with your copy of Destination: Creativity and we'll page through it together! Have you gone to a retreat this year, or are you planning on going to one soon? Tell me in the comments.