Meet author/illustrator team Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford (also mother and son). Carole has authored 70+ books, including award winning Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre; Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom; and All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jeffery's beautiful illustrations can be found in We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman. On this episode, we celebrate the book birthday of their new, incredibly powerful joint venture Kin: Rooted in Hope ( I devoured it in one sitting), and we talk about how this duo brings nonfiction to life.
[01:20]: We discuss their experience collaborating as a mother-son duo.
[03:01]: Carole talks about their long history of collaboration and how working on books is different from everyday tasks.
[03:30]: We discuss the genesis of Kin: Rooted in Hope.
[04:46]: Carole and Jeffery discuss their family's ancestral farm and the inspiration behind Kin.
[06:15]: Carole discusses the research process for Kin and shares some surprising discoveries she made along the way.
[12:48]: Carole reads a poem about Prissy Copper and explains its significance.
[14:55]: Jeffery discusses his approach to illustrating the book.
[19:40]: We reflect on how Kin provides a rich context for understanding the lives of enslaved people.
[21:10] : Jeffery discusses his technique and the inspiration behind specific illustrations.
[26:54]: Jeffery shares an illustration of Frederick Douglass and its significance.
[28:07]: Carole highlights some of her favorite illustrations and their emotional impact.
[31:38]: Carole expresses the hope that readers will understand the value of preserving family stories and heritage.
[34:33] Carole talks about her childhood and how her parents, both educators, nurtured her interests in poetry and visual arts.
[35:41] Jeffery discusses how his mother recognized his artistic talent and encouraged his journey in the arts.
[37:21] Dr. Diane shares the story of Archie Williams, the first African American meteorologist in the United States.
[38:49] They discuss their involvement in STEM education, including hip hop workshops and a project about artist MC Escher, inspired by mathematics.
[42:03] Carole discusses her criteria for choosing subjects to write about, including admiration, significance, and market demand.
[44:23] Jeffery talks about how he envisions illustrations while reading the manuscript and selects images that resonate with him.
Support the show
[00:01] Dr Diane: Wonder, curiosity, connection. Where will your adventures take you? I'm Dr. Diane, and thank you for joining me on today's episode of Adventures in Learning. Today, on the Adventures in Learning podcast, we have two incredibly special guests. We have author, illustrator, mother/son duo, Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford. You know Carole from more than 70 books, including the award winning Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre; Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom; All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jeffery has done so many incredible illustrations, including We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. And today we are going to be talking about their new joint venture, Kin: Rooted in Hope. Join me in welcoming the Weatherfords to our podcast. So welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast. Today I am so thrilled to have mother son, author, illustrator duo Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford with us. We are celebrating the book birthday of Kin: Rooted in Hope, and we're going to talk all about that book as well as about the incredible work these two do in making nonfiction spring to life for us. So welcome to the show.
[01:20] Carole: Thanks, Diane.
[01:21] Jeffery: Thank you. Yes, absolutely. It's been a long time coming.
[01:24] Dr Diane: Well, I am so happy to have you both on. And before we dive deep into Kin, I have to ask, what is it like collaborating with each other as a mother/son duo?
[01:34] Jeffery: And that's a question that everybody wants to know. Actually, that's like, one of the common questions, and I'll let my mom answer first.
[01:47] Carole: Well, we've been collaborating for a long time. Even before we did books, we collaborated on one thing or another, whether it was making pizza or cleaning up Jeffery's room. But this is different. And I explained to Jeffery that it is different. I said, when we're talking about art and books, it's not like when I was telling you to make up your bed. I said, but because I have seniority, I'm still the boss. But really, he's an equal partner in this. And I respect his ability and his vision for the text that I write. And I just try to make the text as evocative as possible so that he can then work his magic. But in some respects, it's just like working with any other illustrator. But of course, I'm more curious, and I probably bug him more during the process, but he doesn't necessarily show me sketches along the way. Sometimes I see sketches at the same time and art at the same time that the publisher does.
[03:01] Jeffery: Yeah. It's not like when I was young and I would say, hey, mom, here. Here's my art.
[03:06] Carole: Check it out. Check it out. Check this.
[03:09] Jeffery: You know, we keep it as professional as we can.
[03:13] Dr Diane: That's wonderful. And so let's talk about Kin. What is the genesis of it? Share all about the book. I want to hear how you guys came to write this. I'd love it if you wanted to read a sample and to share the illustrations as well, at least some of them.
[03:30] Jeffery: Absolutely.
[03:31] Carole: I think we both probably started working on Kin before we knew that we were working on it, because of all we know from during our childhoods, which did not coincide. We were visiting our family's farmhouse on the eastern shore of Maryland. And in the living room of the farmhouse, there was a portrait, an old, probably daguerreotype, of a man who was my great-great and Jeffery's great-great grandfather. And I knew from some point in my childhood that that man, Phillip Moaney, had been enslaved. And I would learn more details as I grew up. Not a whole lot of details, but just where he was enslaved and the fact that Frederick Douglass was enslaved at this place. As you know, the genesis was probably in our childhoods just going to this ancestral farm that's been in our family since Reconstruction in a village that our great great grandfather great great or third great or second great grandfather co founded in Talbot County, Maryland.
[04:46] Jeffery: Absolutely like my mom said, well, I've been going to this ancestral haven for as long as I can remember, since I was a young boy, riding through the woods and the one lane roads and hearing about the stories and meeting my family. So, yeah, it's been definitely a lifelong project, if you will. This is just the tip of the iceberg that people see.
[05:21] Carole: But really, we probably owe credit for this project to our agent, Rubin Pfeffer, who several years ago, after we had collaborated on You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman, was looking for another project that we could work on together. And he asked me, he said, is there some black town that you could write about like Edward Lee Masters did in Spoon River Anthology? And I said, yeah, there is. There's this town that my ancestors founded. In fact, there were two towns that my ancestors founded, Unionville and Copperville in Talbot County, Maryland. And that was really the genesis of the writing/kin part of this genealogical quest of ours.
[06:09] Dr Diane: And is the story told in poetry? How did you go about doing the research for this?
[06:15] Carole: Right, it's told in poetry. I'm first and foremost a poet, and Jeffery's a poet, too, by the way. He's best known as an illustrator, I guess, in the children's book world, but he's a poet as well. And so I knew early on that I wanted to write in multiple voices, and I met the people whose voices I wanted to write in through a ledger that the Lloyd family, the plantation owners and enslavers had. And I researched that at Maryland Historical Society and Talbot County Free Library and then kind of went from there. Now, that was not my only source of research. I also used archaeological reports. There's been a dig at White House Plantation. I used Frederick Douglass's autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, because Frederick Douglass wrote about my fourth great grandfather in that autobiography. My fourth great grandfather was known as Doctor or Minister Isaac Copper. And I studied the landscape, material culture, cemeteries, and military records of the US. Colored troops because my great great grandfather, Isaac Copper, fought in the US. Colored troops. And so those are just some of the things that I used, and I also relied some on local lore.
[07:51] Dr Diane: What were some of the most surprising things that you discovered during your research process?
[07:58] Carole: One of the most surprising things, there were two, and they both involve the man that I mentioned last, Isaac Copper, who fought in the US. College troops. One at an exhibition of art by a woman named Ruth Star Rose, who was also a resident of Copperville. She was a white resident of Copperville who came of age on a former plantation that her parents came down from Wisconsin to restore. So she was a painter. And I went to an exhibition of her artwork and I was unprepared for the fact that I was going to be actually seeing relatives in these paintings. They were relatives, most of whom I had never met. One of whom I suspect is my father. Of course I met my father, but it's a picture of him, I think, as a boy. But another artifact that was in that exhibition was a photograph of Isaac Copper, the one who fought in the US. Colored troops. And it was the first time I had ever seen his face. It's the only photograph. Well, I've since seen another photograph, but it's not close up enough to see his face. So, I mean, I just cherished that particular find. I by no means uncovered it, but I did encounter another thing, the other morsel also has to do with Isaac Copper, and it is that he was known locally as the Royal Black because he descended from African royalty. And that was the first time I had ever heard, you know, in essence, Jeffery and I descend from African royalty.
[09:38] Dr Diane: I love that. And that's incredible to be able to find that and build those connections with your family, especially because one of the many tragedies of enslavement is not being able to trace genealogy and having that part of who you are denied to you.
[09:55] Carole: Right. In fact, the year 1870 is considered the wall when it comes to African American genealogical searches, because that's the first census that really counted, not just counted, but named African Americans who had been enslaved. When African Americans were enslaved, they were not named in the census. They may have been counted in some way, but they were not named. So it can be very difficult to trace African American heritage. Prior to 1870, we were successful in tracing our roots thanks to those plantation records, to 1770.
[10:42] Dr Diane: Wow, that’s incredible.
[10:43] Carole: Before the revolutionary war.
[10:45] Dr Diane: That is incredible. Would you guys like to share a little bit of an excerpt from Kin? And then, Jeffery, we're going to talk.
[10:54] Jeffery: Oh, I have the illustrations pulled up. Mom, do you have the book handy?
[11:03] Carole: I do.
[11:04] Jeffery: Okay, you handle the writing and I'll handle the illustration. Just like normal.
[11:10] Dr Diane: Great plan.
[11:14] Carole: I don't know which poem I want to read. I guess I should have thought of that beforehand. Trying to figure out which one. Which one? Okay. I'll just read Prissy. [poem, p. 102-103)]Prissy house servant born 1788, daughter of Isaac and Nanny Copper. Since I was old enough to reach a table, I have worked in the great house with my folks. Early on, I could set a table and curtsy in silk dresses that Colonel Lloyd's daughters tired of and cast aside as out of fashion. I admire my reflection in a gilded looking glass. I am more well versed in etiquette than some of the guests that I serve. One dinner guest remarks that my name comes from the Bible. The New Testament says he'd like to stay with me like Paul did with Priscilla in Corinth. Prissy is not short for Priscilla. I want to say Prissy is my whole name. As I serve dessert, the man licks his lips, says he'd like a taste of me. I want to say, you already have. I spit in your soup.
[12:37] Dr Diane: I love the unexpected twist there.
[12:40] Carole: Yeah. So that's Prissy Copper. And she would have been one of my great to the maybe third power aunts.
[12:48] Dr Diane: Wow. And is there an illustration that goes with that one? [include photo in show notes]
[12:51] Carole: Yes, Jeffery, you want to show it or do you want me to hold it up?
[12:54] Jeffery: Yes, there is. You can hold it up while I scroll to it.
[12:59] Carole: Page 102.
[13:06] Dr Diane: So, thinking about Spoon River anthology and having all of these different stories and different voices being told, Jeffery, did you, I assume you saw the words before you started the illustrations.
[13:20] Jeffery: Yes, absolutely. So I read through the entire, my process, actually, for any illustration project, I read through the manuscript that my mom has, and I pick out the easiest ones and I do those first.
[13:41] Carole: Which ones were the easiest ones? That's what I want to know, because I need to make it harder.
[13:46] Dr Diane: That's a good question. I was going to ask that, too.
[13:48] Jeffery: What were the easiest ones? That's a good question. The easiest ones were ones that I had models for.
[13:58] Carole: Okay. As opposed to picture references?
[14:01] Jeffery: Yes. Well, picture references that I had picture references and models for. So some of them are kind of imaginative. I think some of the hardest ones were the people in my family as I was imagining them, because the goal is, of course, to give them the proper respect in every manner that it should be given through the delivery of illustrations and the delivery of the stories. So those definitely took the longest. And a lot of times, if I couldn't find a suitable reference, I would use my family. And why not? Because it is a book about my family, of course.
[14:47] Carole: In fact, my granddaughter's on the cover.
Dr. Diane: Is she really?
Carole: Yes. I'll show that.
[14:52] Dr Diane: I was going to say, can we see the cover? [insert cover in show notes]
[14:55] Jeffery: Yes, And I can pull up I don't know if I have the.. Her name is Jordan in this one, actually.
[15:02] Dr Diane: How old is Jordan?
[15:04] Carole: She's 14 now.
[15:06] Dr Diane: Wow.
[15:07] Jeffery: Yeah. This is only the inside. The cover is outside of the inner images of the book. And this is actually the first cover that I was really pushed to work on and deliver. We did, like, four different covers before we landed on this one.
[15:31] Dr Diane: Wow. And what was the process for landing on that cover?
[15:36] Jeffery: It was a bunch of back and forth. It was a headache. Back and forth, back and forth. And I delivered exactly what they wanted, not giving any resistance, just being the paintbrush, if you will, and being the medium to the vision. And we went through four variations of that until satisfaction was attained. And the cover that we see is I'm happy with it. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to place another family member on the front. And I think the color that the art team, as well as the design that was put forth is magnificent. So I love that team effort that I got to be part of for the cover.
[16:27] Carole: And I'm going to go ahead and show Prissy. That's Prissy spitting in the soup.
[16:33] Dr Diane: Oh, I love that Prissy.
[16:36] Carole: And one thing I want to emphasize is that although this is a story about our family, it's also about the Kin community at White House. And it was a huge Kin community. The Lloyd family owned at one time on various farms — they owned more than one farm in the area — they owned more than a dozen farms in that area and farms in Mississippi as well. And the main house, the Great House Farm, it was called Home House. Home House had 300 enslaved residents living in a community called Long Green, which is just a driveway now. It's just a driveway into the plantation. But people were, there were lots of families and extended family members in that community. And so I think this is the first time, other than Frederick Douglass's autobiography, that anyone has really looked at the lives of the people on that plantation and given voice to those people. And so I not only wanted to give voice to my family members, but also to other members of that community. At Long Green, there may seem to be a lot of characters, but that's why because I felt like I would have been remiss to only give voice to my family members when so many other people lived there. And this was really it was an agricultural factory. There were artisans, there were field hands, there were house servants. It took so many people to run that place and to enrich the enslavers, and I wanted to just give voice. It wasn't just my family members who were speaking to me, but other members of that Kin community were speaking to me as well.
[18:46] Dr Diane: I am so looking forward to getting my copy of the book this week. The only thing I can think of that even comes close to touching this is Day of Tears. And that's all about a specific moment in Enslavement in the south. And yours sounds like it's providing a much richer context for the daily lives of people and understanding what that was like to be enslaved, what it was like to be part of a community and how your kin, the folks who are part of that Kin community are so much more than just a figure in a ledger somewhere that they were living, fleshed out real people. And hopefully this will help people understand the scope of the crimes that were committed and the resilience of the folks who were enslaved as well.
[19:40] Carole: Yeah, and one question I get a lot from kids is, you know, nowadays, when I share, this is not the first book I've written about Enslavement. I've got Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, and others. And one question that kids ask or one comment that kids make, well, they ask the question, why didn't they run away? Or they say, well, if it had been me, I would have run away, or I would have had an uprising or whatever. But consider the fact that for many of the enslaved people in that community of 300 who just lived on that one plantation, that was one the only place they knew. It was surrounded by water. At least it was a peninsula, so they had water on several sides. The system of roads did not exist as it exists now. And furthermore, their family members were there. So fleeing meant not only fleeing Bondage, but it meant never seeing your family again. And so that takes a lot of reckoning to risk your life, to run away, to flee, and understand that means leaving your family.
[20:59] Dr Diane: Exactly. Jeffery, can you walk us through some of the illustrations and share a little bit about your process and tell us context for them?
[21:10] Jeffery: Yeah, absolutely. So I can just start here. This is actually one of my favorite illustrations in the book. It's an illustration digital scratchboard rendered in a technique that I developed myself. Scratchboard is a subtractive style of art where you're using the lightness to draw the composition instead of most forms of art, where you're drawing the darkness. The outline. So I draw with the light, and I work to be the light always as well. This spread is the poem in the book is from the perspective of a Chesapeake retriever. And this dog is named Chessy. And the dog is talking about how he has to do all these things. And one of the things that he has to do on the farm is chase slaves. [include the poem, p 104-105, in show notes]
[22:14] Carole: No, let me read it. Let me read it.
[22:17] Jeffery: I'm wrong. Here we go.
[22:19] Carole: Yeah, you're wrong. Yeah, you're wrong. That's the thing he doesn't do. He doesn't chase enslaved people. So I'll just read a little bit of it. More complex than the average gun dog. I have a stubborn streak, but a loyal heart. I would never bite hands that feed me. I guard my owners ferociously and can track or sniff out trouble if sniffed into service. But I don't think that I relish but don't think that I relish running with the packs of bloodhounds foxhounds, Scottish staghounds bulldogs or curves that patrollers sick on runaways. Catching black people is not my idea of sport. And so this dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever that Jeffery drew, were you able to see it, Diane?
[23:04] Dr Diane: Yeah, I can see it.
[23:05] Carole: It looks beautiful. Was a breed of retriever that was actually bred at White House. It originated at White House, and they say it was probably some other type of retriever that bred with Newfoundland. And it has an odor, I understand it has very oily skin and that allows it to get in icy waters and retrieve waterfowl.
[23:35] Dr Diane: That's interesting that that emanated from that plantation. I've actually met a Chesapeake Bay retriever, so you've given me some context for the dog.
[23:43] Carole: I've never gotten away from one. I don't think I want to, based on the description.
[23:48] Dr Diane: You're right, though. They do have a distinct odor.
[23:50] Carole: Yeah, I've heard they're pretty stinky.
[23:55] Jeffery: Interesting.
[23:56] Carole: But I do love dogs. Okay. Don't get me wrong.
[24:00] Jeffery: Of course, we'll make sure that we take note of that.
[24:03] Carole: Yeah.
[24:04] Dr Diane: Are there any other illustrations you want to share, Jeffery?
[24:07] Jeffery: Yeah, absolutely. One of my favorite illustrations, I think one of my mom's Chicken Sue. [p. 92, include in show notes]
[24:16] Carole: What page is that on?
[24:18] Jeffery: I do not have these.
[24:21] Carole: It I'll find it.
[24:25] Dr Diane: Talk about Chicken Sue while she's looking for the poem.
[24:27] Jeffery: So this particular poem, and I don't want to get it wrong again, but from what I remember, she was a field hand or a farm hand, rather, who witnessed chicken fights. She was witnessing the roosters or the chickens fight each other.
[24:51] Carole: I'm going to add. She also kept the chickens. That was her responsibility on the farm, too. She kept the chickens. And she had a little flock of her own, too, so go on, Jeffery.
[25:02] Jeffery: Right. And she had an affinity for them. Right. As one would a child would for animals that she takes care of. So I wanted to depict that in the image. And I definitely enjoy portraits, I think, more than anything in scratchboard.
[25:25] Dr Diane: And did you have a model for this, or what was the inspiration for sue?
[25:31] Jeffery: I'm sorry, the first part I didn't hear.
[25:33] Dr Diane: Did you use a model for Chicken Sue?
[25:35] Jeffery: I did have a reference photo. This was actually a Haitian girl, a young Haitian girl.
[25:46] Carole: Okay. Yeah. And let me just read the last two lines. She cherishes these birds because she's able to sell them. But she says, I fret when a hen goes missing, but if I clip their wings, I fear forgetting how to fly. Sometimes in the book, in the poems, these multivoice first person poems, the enslaved character transfers their own aspirations onto an animal or something that they do with an animal. So she transfers the notion of freedom that she holds in her heart to these birds that can fly a little bit. They can fly more than she can fly. Chickens, of course, can't fly that far or that high. And then elsewhere in the book, that thirst for freedom gets transferred to sailboats or to a horse.
[26:48] Dr Diane: Wonderful. How about one more illustration, Jeffery?
[26:54] Jeffery: Frederick Douglass. I like this one as well. [poem, p. 46-47, include in show notes] So Frederick Douglass, he actually wrote about one of our ancestors. And this is a portrait, of course, of Frederick Douglass, which I had a reference photo for. Again, I like images where I have very clear reference photos that I can see the details. It definitely changes the end result of the illustration. And this image, I wanted it to be very piercing, as I learned while I was doing research for this, that he was the most photographed man in America. Right. I don't even know maybe of all time, the most photographed man just of.
[27:44] Carole: The 19th century of that time.
[27:49] Jeffery: I wanted to give a strong representation to that energy that is Frederick Douglass, the icon.
[27:59] Dr Diane: Well, and the eyes are absolutely piercing. Like, you can't look away from them. It's really captivating.
[28:06] Jeffery: Thank you.
[28:07] Carole: Of course, that's the conundrum of being an illustrator. When you do this fantastic realistic piece of art, and then you see the layout, and it's teeny tiny. So, I mean, that happens every time. You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman — Jeffery had an airplane that he did in great detail, and it wound up, the airplanes, they reproduced three of the airplanes, I think, on the cover, and they were maybe two or three inches long, maybe two inches long each. But that doesn't take away from the skill that Jeffery put into the artwork. I wanted to just show a couple of illustrations, if I can.
[28:48] Dr Diane: Sure.
[28:49] Carole: This goes with I can pull them up.
[28:51] Jeffery: Jacob the gardener, I'll pull that up. [p. 110-112, poem, include in show notes]
[28:55] Carole: And I like that one. Because, you know, having witnessed Jeffery's development as an artist, how obsessed he has been with drawing hands, and I told him, I said, I think you've mastered it now. You can stop drawing hands. You've mastered it. And then I have another favorite, Jeffery. I don't know whether you can find it quicker than I can, but it's the one of Nan Copper breastfeeding. [p. 80-81 poem, include in show notes] My fourth great grandmother. Yeah, Nan Copper was, essentially she worked in the great house, but I believe, because she was called Nan and Nanny, that she was probably a wet nurse. And so Jeffery depicted her breastfeeding, a white infant, a white baby. And just as a mother, that one is particularly touching to me. And then there's another that reminds another illustration that reminds me of Jeffery young Isaac Copper, our fourth great grandfather, is looking out over the Wye River, perhaps imagining freedom [p. 74-75, poem, include in show notes]
[30:07] Dr Diane: Wow, that's really powerful. So, Jeffery, once the book is out in the world, are you able to display these illustrations in an art gallery or a show so that people can see them up close?
[30:27] Jeffery: Yes. So we actually have a few exhibitions and stops planned for this. After the book comes out, we will be producing some type of prints for each location so you can see the details and see what the artwork looks like without the book. And of course, I plan on being at these locations as well to give more in depth explanations and insights to the artwork and the process behind the work as well.
[31:00] Carole: And we'll be announcing those locations, the tour locations for the exhibitions as we firm up the dates.
[31:06] Dr Diane: Excellent. I'll include a link to your websites to make sure that people can follow you and be on top of that, because you're definitely going to want to do that.
[31:15] Carole: Great. Thank you.
[31:18] Dr Diane: With Kin, I'm so fascinated by this whole process and by this book, and it's so incredible to hear the two of you talk together about your family and about all the people who lived there. What are you hoping that the reader takes away from this? Where are you hoping, now that the book is out in the world, that it goes?
[31:38] Carole: I hope that readers will understand that knowledge of one's heritage is a form of generational wealth and that our stories are our treasures. So regardless of, I mean, it's certainly worthwhile to embark upon a genealogical quest, but I think it's equally important to embellish that tree with some foliage and the foliage that's the stories. And so while people are alive in your family, talk to them. Collect the stories, and as you do research, if you can't find stories, imagine them. Imagine them. That's allowed. I give everyone creative license to do that.
[32:30] Dr Diane: I love that.
[32:39] Sponsor Ad:
[33:39] Dr Diane: So I want to take a little bit of a step back and start with a question that I normally ask everybody at the top of the interview, but I decided to wait for now because I wanted to talk about Kin first. Describe your own adventures in learning. How did you two get to the place where you are now? I know that there's a lifetime of poetry, of storytelling, of gathering, and you sort of alluded to it and how you work together, but you are award winning authors and illustrators. How did you get to this spot?
[34:33] Carole: Well, I'm going to go back to when I was a child. Both of my parents were educators. My mom is still alive. My dad was a high school printing teacher who used some of my early poems as typesetting exercises for his students. So I got to see my work in print at a very early age, and my parents encouraged me at whatever interest and endeavor or gift I seemed to reveal. So, of course, that was the adventure for me, being able to pursue these interests, whether they were poetic or visual art, because I used to create visual art and I used to do darkroom photography in our basement. I just had these parents who were supportive, who recognized that I was gifted and who knew how to nurture those gifts. So that was, I guess, the adventure for me. And then, of course, being a mother, that's another adventure in learning. And I can thank Jeffery and his sister Carissa for that.
[35:41] Jeffery: So I'm going to piggyback on that and say that I was nurtured. My mom saw, I'm sure, the same spark that her mom saw and her father saw in her and just decided to plug that spark in to the socket and make electricity. So I've always been drawn to the arts and always been drawing. So my mom saw that and put me in art school art classes at different locations and art centers. And from there I continued, went to college for art, computer graphics and animation and then continued even further. Got my MFA in painting and my Master of Fine Arts in painting. And she gave me one of her manuscripts and the rest is History.
[36:37] Dr Diane: And which was the first manuscript that you all collaborated on?
[36:41] Jeffery: So the unofficial well, I guess it is the first one is manuscript that is unpublished. It's called Which Way to Dreamland.
[36:51] Dr Diane: Okay.
[36:52] Jeffery: So that was in my senior year of high school, actually, that I got the opportunity to collaborate on that with her. But the first one that was published by a major publisher was You Can Fly.
[37:07] Dr Diane: Okay. And that was the one about the Tuskegee Airmen, right?
[37:11] Jeffery: Yes.
[37:12] Dr Diane: That's a great story. As you all were researching that, did you by any chance run across information about Archie Williams?
[37:21] Carole: The name rings the bell.
[37:23] Dr Diane: He was the first African American meteorologist in the United States. He was on the same team as Jesse Owens in the Olympics.
[37:32] Carole: Wow.
[37:33] Dr Diane: And he actually won a gold medal and then came back to this country and couldn't get a job because he was Black. And he wound up sweeping at the airfields as he was learning engineering and studying. He was too old to be a Tuskegee airman, but they sent him to school to become a meteorologist, and he wound up teaching the airmen meteorology to help them with their planes. Did eventually get to fly. He flew in the Korean War, retired, became a physics teacher out in California. He passed away in 2019, and they've renamed his high school after him.
[38:10] Carole: Wow. He sounds like he's worthy of a book.
[38:14] Dr Diane: I think he absolutely is. I discovered his story working with kids, and I always try to find those stories to tell them so that they can learn about stories that maybe aren't being taught in the curriculum, but are important for them to know.
[38:27] Carole: Archie Williams.
[38:28] Dr Diane: Yeah.
[38:29] Carole: Okay.
[38:29] Dr Diane: I thought about you when I read his story. I was like, this sounds like a Carole story.
[38:35] Carole: Yeah. We're starting to do some STEMmy stuff. We're working on a project about the artist MC Escher, whose artwork, as you know, was inspired by mathematics. We're getting into the STEM area a little bit now.
[38:49] Dr Diane: Well, I saw on your website that you all are offering STEAM for all ages. I was going to ask you, what exactly does that entail?
[38:58] Carole: Jeffery, you want to talk about it? You want me to?
[39:00] Jeffery: Yeah. So I actually teach hip hop workshops, which is the technology part. I teach how to use current technology to create your own hip hop versus record and distribute that's part of that. And we also do writing within that as well. So both teach them how to use the technology and teach them how to use that organic technology right up inside of their head.
[39:34] Dr Diane: I love it.
[39:35] Carole: And then Jeffery has an art workshop, too, called WDUS4 — What Do You Stand For? Where he has kids decorate their own footprints around whatever the thing is, the value or the endeavor or the goal that they say they stand for. So we've done that, presented that at several schools, libraries, and cultural centers. And then the math part of that, that's the Escher part. And also, you cannot be an aviator or in the aviation industry without knowing math.
[40:16] Dr Diane: Right.
[40:16] Carole: At least I don't want to get in a plane.
[40:18] Dr Diane: And science, too.
[40:20] Carole: Yeah. If you are building planes, flying planes, directing planes, you got to know some math. So that's where the math part comes in right now. And there's some math was also involved in my manuscript Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, in which each poem is six lines to correspond with the sides of Henry's box.
[40:48] Dr Diane: Very cool. I love the fact that you bring poetry into everything that you do. Was that intentional or how did you start? Did you start as a poet or a picture book author?
[41:00] Carole: I started as a poet. I mean, my first picture book was not poetry, but it's only because I had written it in verse first, and the editor said, Would you write it in prose? And then after that, most of my work tended to be poetry rather than prose. I do have some books in prose, Freedom on the Menu: the Greensboro Sit Ins and The Faith of Elijah Cummings: the North Start of Equal Justice are two examples. But I'm most comfortable in poetry. I consider poetry my first literary language. And Jeffery's a poet, too, as you know, he's a rapper and performance poet. And we've got a book coming out called Rap It Up, and it's actually about how to write rap.
[41:43] Dr Diane: Oh, wow. That sounds like a lot of fun. I like the way that you make poetry accessible for kids today as well. A question for you all in terms of right now, Carole you've got over 70 books that have been published, right. How do you decide who you want to write about?
[42:03] Carole: I write about people that I admire who intrigue me, but even if they intrigue me, I've got to admire them. I'm not going to waste my time writing about somebody that I don't admire. Or if I write about a historical event that is harrowing, I write about it because I think people need to know about it. Maybe in some cases, like The Tulsa Race Massacre, new information about it was suppressed, and so many people didn't know about it. And I thought it was a seminal but albeit horrific event in American history. I thought that people needed to know about it. So it's got to interest me first of all, and I think I need to think that it's of a significance to young people or a wider audience. And also, I don't want too many other books to have been written about it. If I can, I'd like to be first. And beyond that, hopefully there's a market for it. So I tend to write about obscure subject matter. And if it's so obscure that I think there's no market for it, I'm probably not going to pursue it, at least not at this stage in my life.
[43:21] Dr Diane: And as you're going through and doing the research on your books, how do you decide what to include and what to leave out? Because I'm imagining, as you're researching events and people, there's way more than you can fit into a picture book.
[43:36] Carole: Right. That's always hard. I look for the details that are going to resonate most with the reader, of course, the detail, and also develop the character or develop the story. And you're right. I can't include everything. It's tempting, and it was particularly, especially tempting in Kin with 300 people living at White House, but I couldn't include 300 voices, so I had to pick ones that would be perhaps archetypes for those that I could not include.
[44:12] Dr Diane: That makes sense to me. And, Jeffery, as you're receiving all the words, how do you go about deciding what to include in terms of detail in the illustrations?
[44:23] Jeffery: So as I'm reading the manuscript, I kind of get visions. I don't know any other word to kind of say, but, yeah, I kind of get visions about the story, and I see the images and the ones that speak to me first and fast. Again, I called it easy, but I don't know, maybe it's not. It's just they speak to me more, and those are the ones that I choose, and I work to kind of continue whatever subject matter, I guess, like, expound upon them in the images that don't speak to me, if that makes sense. Almost like if there's mention of a person in one poem and then there's a mention of them in another, I might take components from the first poem that was speaking to me to translate into the next poem, like a field or a house or what they were carrying or their clothing. Just something to create continuity between the artwork.
[45:46] Dr Diane: Okay. That makes a lot of sense to me. And what are you two working on now? You mentioned Escher. Do you have individual projects as well as things that you're collaborating on? Do you do more than one thing at a time?
[46:00] Carole: I do. I always have more than one thing going. Too many things going on. Usually I'm always multitasking. I'm always working on more than one manuscript, and I'm always thinking of projects Jeffery and I can collaborate on. So right now, it's we've been working on and off for a while on a hip hop manuscript that we're writing. So I guess we'll get that finished. And there's an Easter egg. Jeffery's actually in the book.
[46:35] Dr Diane: Is he really? Oh, sure.
[46:37] Carole: That he used himself as a model. He couldn't afford to pay that's, I think that's right.
[46:44] Jeffery: Uh huh. That is me.
[46:46] Carole: And then there's another it's I think it's after that one, I'm in there too, but not as a model. There's actually a depiction as herself.
[46:59] Jeffery: Two of us appears as herself.
[47:01] Carole: Yeah, I appear as myself. There he is again.
[47:04] Dr Diane: Oh, wow.
[47:05] Carole: Yeah. He's portraying what? Charles Copper?
[47:09] Jeffery: Yeah.
[47:10] Carole: Charles Copper. Born 1817. Very good, Jeffery. Very good model for that. [p. 133-135, poem include in show notes]
[47:15] Jeffery: Thank you.
[47:16] Dr Diane: Well, I am so looking forward to seeing that book. I'm hoping that our listeners will run out and grab their copies. And the last question I want to ask you all today is, what brings you hope?
[47:34] Carole: Hmm? What brings me hope? Well, my children bring me hope. My children and my grandchildren bring me hope. And children in general give me hope because they have so much heart and such a strong sense of justice and sense of joy.
[47:56] Jeffery: Yes, I definitely will agree. Seeing the next generation carrying on the torch, that's definitely something that lifts the spirits. Yes, absolutely.
[48:12] Dr Diane: Well, thank you so much for being on the Adventures in Learning podcast. It has been a joy to talk to the award winning mother son author, illustrator, duo carol Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford. Their book Kin is out now, run to grab it and let us know what you think. Thank you so much for joining us today.
[48:33] Carole: Thank you, Diane.
[48:34] Jeffery: Thank you for having us. It's been a pleasure.