LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
This summer, we want to delve into the relationship between authors and illustrators. How do they work together or separately to perfectly translate text into pictures? Author Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrator Brian Pinkney have worked together for years and received Caldecott honors and Coretta Scott King honors for their work. They also happen to be married.
ANDREA DAVIS PINKNEY: We're that couple that literally met at the copy machine. Two places - the copy machine and the water cooler. And it all kind of stemmed from there.
BRIAN PINKNEY: And we started collaborating pretty early on. I was an illustrator, aspiring illustrator. And I had her start modeling me for some of my children's books. I needed a mermaid. So I had her lay across a dining room table so I could get the angle just right like, she was swimming underwater.
A PINKNEY: That was an interesting first date, if you can imagine. You know, I didn't know what I was getting myself into at that point. And now I'm glad I did.
B PINKNEY: Well, it did go in a beautiful way because Andrea did start modeling for me for many of my books and then started writing her own books that I could illustrate for her, which is really kind of cool.
A PINKNEY: And what we didn't realize at the time - or at least I didn't - was that, typically, authors and illustrators never meet each other. They don't collaborate traditionally. They don't go to Starbucks. They don't hang out and talk about the books. And we have a very unique situation because we are married, and we share the same tube of toothpaste and box of cereal. So it's a little untraditional in the picture-book-making model.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Together, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney have worked on more than a dozen children's books about historical events like "Sit-In" and "Boycott Blues" and people, like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Alvin Ailey. And you could say even though they aren't the typical author-illustrator pair, they've worked out a system. First, Andrea writes a manuscript. After she gives it to Brian, he goes to work on the illustrations in his studio far, far away. Then on Saturdays, they have a work date.
A PINKNEY: We have a favorite diner that we go to. The waiters know us. They don't even bring a menu 'cause they know we're gonna be sitting there for hours with our papers spread out. And that's when we talk about the work. That's when we do collaborate.
B PINKNEY: Yeah. We also have little rules we set up - how we communicate with each other, too, so we can stay happily married. For example, one of the rules I came up with - that if Andrea's looking at one of my sketches and something doesn't look quite right, she can't say something like, in the case of the book about Alvin Ailey, Alvin Ailey's foot looks like a football because that kind of hurts my feelings. So I say she has to say something like Alvin Ailey's foot looks unresolved.
A PINKNEY: Right. We've learned a lot through trial and error.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The wife and husband's latest work together is called "Martin Rising: Requiem For A King." It's the story, written in a series of poems, of the final months of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life.
A PINKNEY: I really know the kinds of things that my husband likes. So in the case of the book "Martin Rising," I know that my husband loves history. We both love civil rights. And I knew that if I were to craft that in a way that would allow Brian to think metaphorically, that might be something that would be appealing to him.
B PINKNEY: So the illustrations for the docupoems in "Martin Rising" - I wanted them to be very poetic also, almost like visual poetry. So I would look at some of my mentors in art history like Marc Chagall and Norman Lewis and come up with the visual metaphors to bring Andrea's poems and the real events that happened in Memphis to life.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In one of the poems called "Chaos," Andrea writes, (reading) The sky's on fire. The sky's torn loose, burned off its hinges. And Brian, in swirling pink and orange watercolors, paints a hazy sky cut through with jagged black lines. Andrea says that, even after all these years, Brian still surprises her.
A PINKNEY: We have collaborated on a lot of picture book biographies, a lot of picture books that are also nonfiction topics about real people, real things that happened in history. We've also collaborated on a book called "Sit-In," which is about the Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins of 1960. And it was so funny when we embarked upon that book because Brian said to me, how am I going to illustrate this? Andrea, they're just sitting. And I said, well, honey, go to your studio, and I'm sure you'll think of something. And he did. In that book, the lunch counter takes on a life of its own. It becomes a character in the book and walks us through the story. And that topsy-turvy lunch counter at times looks like a rollercoaster. At times, it looks like a road, and that's something that I never could have imagined. I wrote a book about four college students sitting in nonviolent protest, and my husband brought a whole new dimension to it.
B PINKNEY: Wow. Andrea, thank you.
A PINKNEY: You're welcome.
B PINKNEY: I love how you describe my artwork. I forget what I did.
A PINKNEY: Yes.
B PINKNEY: Yes. And it happens for me also when I read your language afterwards. I can't imagine how you came up with the words and the metaphors that you come up with that are so beautiful and rich and visual in a way that helped inspire me.
A PINKNEY: It's fun to work with the one you love.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was author Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrator Brian Pinkney talking about their work together.
(SOUNDBITE OF KRIS BOWERS' "WATER BOY")
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