29 August 2007

Live From The Bottom Shelf: Kyra Hicks

Today, we are pleased to welcome Kyra Hicks, the distinguished author and quilter extraordinaire to the Bottom Shelf. I could try to list all of the Ms. Hicks' accomplishments and distinctions, but that might leave me with carpal tunnel syndrome. Seriously, the woman has done a lot! So here is the link to her impressive bio.

She joins us today to discuss her book, Martha Ann's Quilt For Queen Victoria, which is based on the true story about a former slave who moves to Liberia with her family, and whose determination leads her to a personal meeting with the Queen of England (back when being the Queen of England actually meant more than just wearing funny hats).

But enough from me, let's get down to business. Without further ado, here are Five Picture Book Related Questions For Kyra Hicks.

BSB: What inspired you to turn Martha Ann's story into a children’s book?

Kyra: I’ve spent more than five years researching Martha Ann Ricks’ life and wanted to share her inspiration with a younger generation. I was inspired by many elements that are not traditionally written in picture books such as the African American experience in Liberia or about Black folks meeting British Royalty or about a Black father purchasing his family out of slavery.

BSB: Is there a strong connection between quilting and storytelling?

Kyra: I believe there is a strong connection between quilting and storytelling on two levels. The first is the creation of story quilts where the quilt is the canvas for the story itself. The story is sewn onto the quilt. Many kids and librarians will recognize Faith Ringgold’s famous Tar Beach story quilt as an example of this kind of connection.

The second connection is in the transmitting of the story behind a quilt. An example is when a family member shares insights about who made a family quilt, points out familiar pieces of cloth within the quilt or share the reasons why the quilt was created in the first place. The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy is an example of the oral quilt tradition.

BSB: Was quilting introduced to Liberia by the African Americans who came through the American Colonization Society? Is quilting part of the culture in Liberia today?

Kyra: There were dozens of indigenous tribes in Liberia before the first American settlers arrived in the 1820s. I haven’t researched the textile traditions of the various tribes to know if they included quilting techniques. I do know, though, that many black folks who emigrated to Liberia in the nineteenth century quilted. In fact, there were monetary prizes given for quilts at the first National Fair in Liberia in 1857. Yes, quilting remains apart of Liberian textile arts today.

BSB: What lessons do you hope children will take away from your book?

Kyra: The primary lessons I hope kids learn from Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria are that dreaming huge is permissible and that achieving one’s dreams takes work. Martha Ricks spent 50 years, or if you’d rather five decades or 18,250 days, pursuing her dream in the face of ridicule and a low bank balance. Yet, she achieved what few in the world did. She had an audience with Queen Victoria.

I’ve been to a few school visits and continue to be amazed by what the boys and girls pull out of the book. I tried to capture many of their questions and comments in a free discussion guide.

BSB: Do you have any plans for more picture books? Are there other famous quilters that you think would make for good characters?

Kyra: Yes, I do plan to continue to write picture books, with an emphasis on historical characters. I am researching my next picture book now. As for other famous quilters, I’d love to see a picture book about the nineteenth century quilter Harriet Powers, creator of the Bible Quilt, which is part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History collection. I’d also love to read a picture book about the nineteenth century African American Siamese twins Millie-Christine.

And now, a few non-picture book related questions:

BSB: If you were making a quilt to send a message to the next president of the United States, what would you put on it?

Kyra: HOPE!

BSB: If you were forced to be on one reality television show, what would it be and why?

Kyra: I can’t sew clothes worth a darn, but I’d LOVE to be on Project Runway for its creative energy and inspiring assignments. And, what quilter wouldn’t LOVE to be given x dollars and let loose in a fabric store?

So there you have it. Thank you Kyra! To read more about Ms. Hicks, check out BlackThreads.com and her blog about kid's lit. Also, look for more of her work in your local bookstore... and tune into Bravo and see if you can find Kyra matching wits with the devastating (in oh so many ways) Heidi Klum on Season 3 of Project Runway. Watch what happens.


Unknown said...

Kyra is my sister ... and yet, I learned some things in this interview. Thank you very much for taking time to document this interview. We are very proud of Kyra!

peace, Villager

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