Illustrator talks about King’s speech
Kadir Nelson book signing
7 p.m. Jan. 22
Anderson’s Book Shop, 123 W. Jefferson, Naperville
(630)-355-2665 or andersonsbookshop.com
It was the speech that spoke to the heart of a nation torn by racism and the socioeconomic divide, igniting the civil rights movement as no other major address had done before.
And this year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C.
While schools and office buildings are closed to celebrate Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, Caldecott Award-winning illustrator and author Kadir Nelson hopes children will find the meaning of the day in his just-published I Have a Dream picture book (Random House Children’s Books, $18.99), which includes highlights of the speech accompanied by Nelson’s oil painting illustrations. The hardcover book also features the complete text of the speech and an audio CD of King’s original delivery of the speech.
Q. How did this project get its start?
A. I was asked to do it by the publishers. A book had been done several years ago using a collaboration of several artists. This time they wanted to do it in a different way, with one voice, and they asked if I’d be interested. I’m at a point where I’m not illustrating the words of other storytellers and authors, but I make exceptions when the text is outstanding, and this is one of greatest speeches in history. I felt privileged to add images to Dr. King’s speech.
Q. Do you remember the first time you heard or read the speech? And how did you decide on the excerpts that you ultimately illustrated?
A. When I was a kid I memorized it. In fifth grade, my first assignment was to deliver this speech. Working on this book, I looked at it again and it’s a very long speech, so I chose the most famous parts of it along with the publishers.
Q. When you begin the creative process of the illustrations, how do you work through that? Do you look at photos? Do you sketch first and then paint?
A. I do sketches first. They’re fairly loose, but give me a good idea of what I would imagine them to be. Then I do quite a bit of research. This time I went to Washington, D.C., to the mall and walked along the edge of the reflecting pool all the way up to where he delivered his speech. I visited the [King] memorial to get a sense of time and space. I took a number of pictures and then went home and started painting.
Q. Why do you think the speech resonates so powerfully 50 years later?
A. The theme of the dream, of holding a vision in your head for the way we hope things can be is always going to resonate. It’s a human thing that runs throughout history. I think the speech speaks to the power of holding out for that dream; the fact that it was a universal message that spoke to everyone, that everyone could relate to, regardless of age, ethnicity, religion or gender. And it was right in line with the ideals that were set forth when our country was founded, the message of inclusiveness that our forefathers had imagined for the country.
Q. You’ve painted so many world leaders, legendary sports figures, celebrities. Who impressed you the most?
A. The truth is I like to meet and sit with people who have a really strong spiritual sense of themselves, whether they are a world leader or someone who is not in the public eye. In some way it’s all the same — that shared sense of spirituality.