To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Author-Illustrator Anita Crawford Clark!
Anita Crawford Clark states that artistic expression and storytelling always seemed like DNA traits that went hand in hand. Everyone in the family were natural storytellers. But according to her mother, Anita’s artistic talent came from being born with an individually creative soul and with an infectious happiness about ostensibly mundane experiences. Perhaps those combined qualities led Anita into developing her thoughtful reflections and artistic depictions celebrating ordinary Black life and culture. Anita’s art focuses on the heart and soul of Black culture, community, and daily life.
Her artistic compositions, like her literary prose, include scenes reflecting symbolism such as shelling black-eyed peas with Grandma, fishing on a favorite riverbank, tending the garden, and participating in church service. Like some early nineteenth century creators, Anita feels that the symbolic value or meaning of a work of art emanates from the re-creation of emotional experiences in the observer through color, line, and composition. The important aspect of her art is its universality. While at first glance, her compositions seem germane to Black culture, it is representative of human qualities of any culture – love, fear, heartbreak, loss, grief, joy, hope, etc.
However, Anita is not limited in one style or medium. She has also mastered multiple creative mediums as she captures Black Americans’ struggles and trials that also convey perennial hopes and dreams. She is ever learning new artistic skills and nuances in expanding her artistic pallet. Anita welcomes the opportunity to create something special for everyone who engages with her art.
Anita lives in Sacramento, California with her husband and youngest daughter. The mother of two older daughters and three grandchildren, Anita enjoys time with family, outdoor activities, sports, and music. She attended Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles for two years, earned her BA in Sociology from UC Davis, an MFA in creative writing and MS in media psychology. She has taught K-12 for 25 years.
Anita is seeking agent representation.
Hi Anita, and welcome to the blog! I'm so excited to have you here and chat about all things writing, art, and creativity! I'm already blown away by your background and look at the amazing details and textures in your art! Gorgeous! I can't wait to learn more!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
● Top three favorite children’s books of all time?
Tale of Peter Rabbit and anything by Beatrix Potter, Goodnight Moon written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, and Long Way Down written by Jason Reynolds.
● Coffee, tea (or neither)? Tea.
● Where is your safe place? My writing and drawing studio.
● Dogs, cats, (or neither)? Both, but right now we have a Guinea Pig.
● Early bird or night owl? Early bird, very early.
● Three words to describe what it takes to make it in the kidlit world…
1. Passion 2. Persistence 3. Paying it forward
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
ACC: I was born and raised in Sacramento, California. I was the middle child. I had an older brother and sister, and one younger sister. My mother said I was born with a smile on my face and that I was the happiest baby ever. But you know moms. She did, however, encourage my artistic endeavors even though I often used things around the house for creations that were not meant to be cut up, glued, sewed, etc. I loved reading children’s books for as long as I can remember. The first one I fell in love with was the Tale of Peter Rabbit, followed closely by Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. To this day I always purchase those two books for new born babies of family and friends.
AD: That's amazing you had support from your mother from the start, and it sounds like your creative wheels have been spinning and crafting since you were very young. It's funny how certain books seem to resonate and stick with us long into adulthood. For me, I remember the lovely work of a local Massachusetts author-illustrator, Jan Brett. I especially loved her story titled, The Mitten, where readers followed along with a parallel story that was hidden in the borders of each page.
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
ACC: I think I’ve known since I was about eight years old. That is when I started creating my own books. I would illustrate them, write the words and bind them. Then I would invite my little sister and some of the neighborhood kids to be my students. I’d set our garage up as a makeshift school, hand out my homemade books, and teach them. Whether creating books or some other art or craft, it has been a part of my DNA as long as I can remember.
Outside of teaching, other jobs have not exactly been on my radar. Although I do love neuroscience. I am fascinated with how the brain and mind work. This is the reason I decided to earn my PhD. Although my focus is psychology, much of what I’m interested in is neuroscience and positive psychology. I am entrepreneurial minded and thus I have and am always looking to be loosed from the 9-5 regime.
AD: Oh my goodness! I love how you bound your own books and then created your own school for story time and teaching. AMAZING! Your path of teacher, storyteller, and artist was definitely your destiny!
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
ACC: My favorite themes in writing are centered around history, family values and traditions, and the live experiences of people. I love doing research and learning new things. I also enjoy themes on well-being, coping and positive psychology. Mostly, I desire to tell stories in words and visually that allow readers to step into their potential and power. I wish for my words and images to inspire a sense of self-worth and resilience. Words and images that resonate on a deeper level and encourage my readers to reach higher, go farther and laugh louder.
My artistic flavor leans towards soft pastels. I love this medium, although it is quite messy. I also love collage. I enjoy finding unique and interesting papers and patterns to incorporate into my art work. Other mediums and techniques also pique my interest and I explore them as often as I can.
I enjoy writing both fiction and non-fiction in picture books, middle grade and YA. For some reason, I am fond of time travel plots. I even wrote a full-length screenplay that is based on time travel for my MFA Creative Writing thesis. I think one area that people might not know I love, is neuroscience. I drink up anything about the brain and mind.
AD: Reach higher, go farther, laugh louder, and step into your potential and power. Wow! I love it! Although I have yet the pleasure to read your stories, your art speaks volumes. The details and soft colors create a wonderful sense of calm, joy, and wonder. Your characters are full of life and the relationship between May Lily and Grandmama is one I want to know more about. It is a true talent when your art can say so much through visuals alone.
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
ACC: There are numerous challenges when one endeavors to break into a specialized field. For me, one of those challenges was losing my mother to cancer and my brother to a stroke. It was not easy to stay focused on my writing and art. And after some initial rejections, I put this dream on the back burner - but I never let the flame burn completely out.
Ironically, it was during the initial shelter-in-place orders in March, 2020, that I visited that back burner. I knew now was the time. I dusted off some old manuscripts, wrote some new ones and started creating some new art pieces. But what really blew my mind and amazed me, was the writing community - particularly on Twitter. I had been away for a while and everyone embraced me when I eased my way back in.
Storytelling comes naturally to me. The work for me is revising that story into a manuscript that is worthy to be on a bookshelf one day. That is the work. That is why I am and will continue to grow my storytelling skills. I desire my writing and illustrations to be equally dynamic, engaging, and entertaining.
AD: I'm so sorry about your mother and brother, Anita. Losing loved ones is never easy. I'm glad your creative flame is burning strong once again-a bright spot amidst this crazy year. And yes, the kidlit community on Twitter is amazing! So supportive, generous, and so much knowledge! I feel connected to so many people I've never met but hope to one day!
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey?
ACC: For me, submitting my manuscript, putting myself and my work out there for others to love or reject, that is something I’m happy I have had the courage to do. Going for a dream, I mean really getting after it, is not easy. But putting your dreams out there is what it takes in order to realize those dreams.
AD: Yes! Vulnerability is a part of this game. It's not easy but it is necessary if we want to get our stories out in the world and into the hands of young children. Kudos to you for taking that step and chasing your dreams!
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
ACC: It is our lived experiences that make anything creative people do unique to them. It is the same for me. No one has lived my life, seen what I have seen through my eyes, experienced people, places and events the way I have experienced them. This is what makes my writing and illustrations unique.
AD: I love this and completely relate. No one can write your story but you!
AD: What inspires your work?
ACC: My dreams inspire my work. Children everywhere inspire my work. My faith in God and God’s creation inspires my work. My family inspires my work. My love of books and learning and growing and giving inspires my work.
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
ACC: I am one of those people who writes best when the inspiration for a new story or illustration hits me. If I am able to get to a piece of paper or my computer, the ideas flow effortlessly. This happens often for me. I just need an inkling of an idea and I am off to races. The only time I really feel stuck is during the revising process. When I do get stuck, I either do some research or look through some aspect of a writing course that I have taken. If that does not work, I step away from that project and try to do something fun and entertaining.
AD: Yes! Revising can be difficult-especially with varying feedback. It's sometimes hard to know where to start but it sounds like you've found some helpful actions that enable you to push through.
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
ACC: Engaging with the writing community on Twitter, SCBWI and taking courses such as Storyteller Academy, Children’s Book Academy and Visual Storytelling courses with Larissa Marantz, and #BlackCreatorsInKidLit, have been absolutely phenomenal for my growth. This list is hardly exhaustive. I could go on naming Twitter events such #PBPitch, #DVPit, #FaithPitch and #FallWritingFrenzy. These events gave me the opportunity to share my stories with the world. As I mentioned, this takes tremendous courage. As I said, I love research and learning, so I am always reading and gleaming from any source that will inch me one step closer to publication.
AD: Thanks for this wonderful list! So many great communities to learn and grow from!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
ACC: I would advise kidlit creatives to be true to their voice, even if they think they haven’t found it yet. Be true to your artistic expression. It can be tempting to try and fit into the box one thinks agents and publishers want, but I cannot see how that would be rewarding or interesting. Be you. Do you. Share you. Love you.
AD: Brilliant! :)
AD: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
ACC: I hang out and am active on:
Twitter @AnitaLCkalr and Instagram @Anitasfavpics and my website is acrawfordclark.com
Anita, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Best of luck as you continue your journey! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Anita and her work.
Stay tuned on Monday where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don't miss out, and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!
Who Am I?
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.