|Don Tate, winner of the 2014 SCBWI Book Launch Award!|
I connected with writer/illustrator Don Tate, winner of this year's award for his picture book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill, to find out more...
Lee: Hi Don, congratulations on winning the 2014 SCBWI Book Launch Award!
Don: Thank you. I was visiting my in-laws in Las Vegas, when Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser contacted me with the good news. I felt like I’d won a jackpot, which, maybe, is a bad comparison. But, hey, I was in Vegas and I won something! Lin suggested that I respond to my lucky streak by throwing “a five on eight the hard way.” Lol! But really, I’m so thankful to SCBWI for this award and what it will allow me to accomplish in my marketing goals.
Lee: You won the award to help promote and market your historical picture book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill. Tell us about the book.
Don: The book was a long time coming, as most picture books are. I wrote and sketched the dummy about six years ago. After many revisions, several rejections, and two near sales that fell through, the book finally sold to Kathy Landwher of Peachtree Publishers. Yay!—that was an exciting day. POET will be my second authored book, my first authored and illustrated book.
It’s the story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who became the first African-American poet to be published in the South. He was an accomplished poet, who earned a great deal of money. But he was also enslaved.
As a young child, George wanted to learn how to read. But as a slave, there was no time. In fact, in some places in the South, a slave could have gotten themselves into big trouble for even trying. George didn’t give up, though. With the help of a found spelling book, and his mother’s Wesley hymnal, he taught himself how to spell and read. Soon, he composed poems inside of his head, which he committed to memory, because he didn’t know how to write with a pen.
When George grew up, he was still enslaved. But his master allowed him to walk eight miles from the farm, to the village of Chapel Hill. On the campus of the University of North Carolina, George sold fruit and recited poetry. He became quite famous on campus. Before long, he learned to write his poems on paper, and he published a book. Then he made plans to purchase his freedom from the earnings.
It’s never my goal to be didactic with a book, however one will not miss the message of how reading and literacy can change a person’s life. I hope this book will inspire children in that way.
Lee: What a story! With $2,000.00 in funds from winning the award, and the book launching in 2015, what are your marketing and promotion plans?
Don: POET will publish in the fall of 2015, but marketing will begin much sooner. I am already slated to speak at the Texas Library Association conference next spring in Austin. POET will debut there, hopefully with some sort of posters and bling, but definitely with F&Gs.
The money from the SCBWI award will help me to have several launch celebrations. One will be here in Austin, of course, with my local writer/illustrator peeps, family, friends, librarians—and hopefully a school! I launched my last authored book at an elementary school, and it was absolutely the best—for me and the students.
I plan to have another launch celebration in North Carolina, perhaps two to three. I’d love to launch the book on or near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where George once worked as an enslaved poet. I’ll use the book to reintroduce the community to their little-known hometown hero.
The other two events could take place at the North Carolina History Museum (a curator there was a source for the book), and/or at the Forsyth Public Library, a branch formerly named after Poet Horton. To get the community involved, I envision a poetry slam and/or acrostic poem writing competition (George wrote acrostic love poems for college student’s girlfriends). For planning, I’m considering bringing on Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, a book consulting company that offers creative marketing projects. Kirsten does a wonderful job with these types of events. However, I may just do the planning myself. Depends. I have a year to figured all this out.
The other part of my plan, which I am really excited about, is taking the book on tour. Along with my friend, author Kelly Starling Lyons, we are planning a book tour tentatively entitled: The Freedom Book Tour: Celebrating 150 Years of Emancipation. Ms. Lyons and I share a book on the subject of freedom and the Emancipation Proclamation, HOPE’S GIFT (Penguin). In addition, another book that I illustrated will publish next spring: THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (Eerdmans), written by another friend, Chris Barton. All three books deal with the subject of the end of slavery and the beginning of Reconstruction. Ms. Lyons also has another book set during the Reconstruction years, ELLEN’S BROOM (Penguin), which will also join the tour. Next year marks the end of the sesquicentennial observation of the end of slavery and the beginning of the Reconstruction Era in America. We will discuss our books, the importance of freedom, and introduce the historical figures we wrote about. Tour stops might include the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (OH), the National Civil War Museums (PA), the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (NYC), or others. Planning begins now!
I must say also, thank you SCBWI for supporting diversity. I’m an author-illustrator of color, underrepresented in the publishing world. My book will be nonfiction, about an African-American historical figure. That makes POET a diverse title. There has been a lot of talk lately about the need for more diverse books. That is great! But talk is cheap. Money is what will encourage real change. With money from the SCBWI Launch Award, I will be able to work with my publisher to creatively market OUR book. Thank you, SCBWI, for helping my diverse title to reach its market.
Lee: How long have you been a member of SCBWI, and how has it helped you on your journey?
Don: It seems like I’ve been a member forever. I joined the mid-90s, when I lived in Des Moines, Iowa. But at the time, there was no local chapter there. While I benefitted from the newsletters and literature, I had no real interaction with other book creators. I moved to Austin in the late 90s, and joined the local chapter here. Since then I’ve grown exponentially as both an illustrator and author.
Austin has a large and prolific youth literature community. SCBWI is at its center. As a member, I enjoy that sense of community and mentorship. I was nervous about attending my first meeting. I wasn’t sure if I’d fit in. But I was welcomed in like an old friend. It seemed that members were stepping in line to help me to polish my craft. It was my friends through SCBWI who encouraged me to write in addition to illustrating. It’s not likely that I’d be a published author had I not joined SCBWI.
Lee: What are your thoughts on finding the balance between promoting the books that are out or about to be out and writing and illustrating new work?
Don: Well, let’s add another element to that equation: school visits. My career is made up illustrating, writing, promoting (including social networking), and speaking at schools and conferences. School visits, in fact, are what keep this train chugging along. So, yes, finding balance can be a challenge. I wish I had a grand answer to offer, but I don’t. I just take it a day at a time. And I try not to think about the challenges too much. It’s like juggling, you just do it. Thinking about it will cause you to drop a ball.
Lee: Thanks for answering my questions, and good luck with the launch of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill!
Don: Thank you, Lee! And thank you SCBWI.
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You can find out more about Don and his books at his website here.
Interested in applying for the SCBWI Book Launch Award yourself? Check out the guidelines here, and good luck!
Illustrate and Write On,