New York Times bestselling author Abram X. Candy will be at the University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia on September 23 to launch his new children’s book, Magnolia Flower. The book is based on a story by the late great writer Zora Neale Hurston, with illustrations by Lois Wise, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts.
The event will focus on a conversation between Candy and Wise called Radical Devotion: a Philly Conversation. The focus will be on the convergence of art, activism and literature.
Harriet’s Bookstore, whose owner Jeanine Cook is also a UArts alumna, is one of the sponsors of the event.
Kendi shared what inspired him to write the book.
“This picture book is a testament to the genius of Zora Neale Hurtston. I wanted to reinterpret this classic story she wrote in 1925 for children. Children need love stories, characters like ‘Magnolia Flowers’ who, despite their pain, are able to feel joy.”
Zora Neale Hurston is a writer best known for her cult novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Many did not know that she wrote something for young people.
Kenji shared how he discovered the story: “In particular, this story, Magnolia Flower, begins with a dancing stream influencing a mighty river and asking the river to tell a powerful love story. As someone who usually reads picture books to my six-year-old daughter, knowing that she loves characters from the natural world, I knew she would be interested in this. The story of this Afro-Indigenous girl who is interested in someone and her father says no, and she decides to go for it anyway. It’s just a beautiful story and the imagery from the natural world that I felt could be adapted well for young children.”
The subject then turned to the discussion he would be giving at the University of the Arts this Friday, especially in this atmosphere of book bans.
“The big picture is why these books are banned and what that says about the state of this country and what that says about knowledge and information and truth in different perspectives and different people seeing themselves in stories. Every effort is made to either distract people from the real issues of the day or to make people believe that it is not in their best interest to understand or appreciate the diversity of the United States or the world, and how racism lived in the past and how racism lives today, explained he
He adds, “If people are not taught the truth, how can they know there is a problem. To me, it’s part of a bigger issue, and I hope we talk about it in Philadelphia. I suspect we will because, knowing Philadephians, we will have to bring the real thing.”
It was also about how education is advertised. According to the mainstream media, only white parents care about their children’s education. In a city like Philadelphia, where the majority of the population is working class and many parents work multiple jobs, it is difficult for them to attend school board meetings. In addition, funding for urban children is being cut. Kendi shed light on the distorted messages.
“When I think about communities and what they need, I think it’s extremely important for our children to have access to books and also to have access to reading. When I think about how to make sure that happens, I think it’s important for us to think about how we expand the offerings in public libraries. How do we provide books to families? How do we provide more resources through wages so they can work fewer hours and have more time to read to their children? How to systematize reading in schools so that black parents do not feel that they need to supplement the regular education system with individual anti-racist books? I’m sure parents will be able to do it.”