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Shining a Light on Untold Stories: Celebrating the Book Birthday of Kin: Rooted in Hope

Join me for a conversation with award-winning author and illustrator duo CAROLE BOSTON WEATHERFORD and JEFFERY BOSTON WEATHERFORD (and they happen to be mother and son too!)

Meet author/illustrator team Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford (also mother and son). Carole has authored 70+ books, including award winning Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre; Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom; and All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jeffery's beautiful illustrations can be found in We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman. On this episode, we celebrate the book birthday of their new, incredibly powerful joint venture Kin: Rooted in Hope ( I devoured it in one sitting), and we talk about how this duo brings nonfiction to breathtaking life.


What follows are excerpts from the Adventures in Podcast episode, complete with images provided by the Weatherfords. I strongly encourage you to also watch the episode on YouTube. Please share your comments and feedback at the end. I loved this book and would love to hear what you think as well.



What is it like collaborating with each other as a mother/son duo?


Jeffery: And that's a question that everybody wants to know. Actually, that's like, one of the common questions, and I'll let my mom answer first.


Carole: Well, we've been collaborating for a long time. Even before we did books, we collaborated on one thing or another, whether it was making pizza or cleaning up Jeffery's room. But this is different. And I explained to Jeffery that it is different. I said, when we're talking about art and books, it's not like when I was telling you to make up your bed. I said, but because I have seniority, I'm still the boss. But really, he's an equal partner in this. And I respect his ability and his vision for the text that I write. And I just try to make the text as evocative as possible so that he can then work his magic. But in some respects, it's just like working with any other illustrator. But of course, I'm more curious, and I probably bug him more during the process, but he doesn't necessarily show me sketches along the way. Sometimes I see sketches at the same time and art at the same time that the publisher does.


Jeffery: Yeah. It's not like when I was young and I would say, hey, mom, here. Here's my art. You know, we keep it as professional as we can.



Kin: Rooted in Hope was just released this month from Simon & Schuster. I was so thankful to receive my advance copy. Kin is a powerful read. Through the poetry, you come to glimpse fragments of lives of some of the 300+ people enslaved on the Lloyd farms in Maryland. Voices, previously silenced, come alive and bear witness in this graceful reexamination of family history, power, and hope. The illustrations add nuance, depth, and connection to this unique book. There really is nothing else like this out right now. It's a truly powerful love letter to a family that can trace itself back to African Royalty, from one of our most beloved nonfiction authors and her incredibly talented illustrator son.



What is the genesis of Kin: Rooted in Hope?

Phillip Money, ancestor of the author and illustrator.

Carole: I think we both probably started working on Kin before we knew that we were working on it. We were visiting our family's farmhouse on the eastern shore of Maryland. And in the living room of the farmhouse, there was a portrait, an old, probably daguerreotype, of a man who was my great-great and Jeffery's great-great grandfather. And I knew from some point in my childhood that that man, Phillip Moaney, had been enslaved. And I would learn more details as I grew up -- not a whole lot of details, but just where he was enslaved and the fact that Frederick Douglass was enslaved at this place.


The genesis was probably in our childhoods just going to this ancestral farm that's been in our family since Reconstruction in a village that our great great grandfather or third great or second great grandfather co-founded in Talbot County, Maryland. -- Carole

Jeffery: Like my mom said, well, I've been going to this ancestral haven for as long as I can remember, since I was a young boy, riding through the woods and the one lane roads and hearing about the stories and meeting my family. So, yeah, it's been definitely a lifelong project, if you will. This is just the tip of the iceberg that people see.


Carole: But really, we probably owe credit for this project to our agent, Rubin Pfeffer, who several years ago, after we had collaborated on You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman, was looking for another project that we could work on together. And he asked me, he said, is there some black town that you could write about like Edward Lee Masters did in Spoon River Anthology? And I said, yeah, there is. There's this town that my ancestors founded. In fact, there were two towns that my ancestors founded, Unionville and Copperville in Talbot County, Maryland. And that was really the genesis of the writing/kin part of this genealogical quest of ours.


How did you go about doing the research for this?


1770 Inventory listing young Isaac and Nan -- provided by the Weatherfords

Carole: I knew early on that I wanted to write in multiple voices, and I met the people whose voices I wanted to write in through a ledger that the Lloyd family, the plantation owners and enslavers had. And I researched that at Maryland Historical Society and Talbot County Free Library and then kind of went from there. Now, that was not my only source of research. I also used archaeological reports. There's been a dig at White House Plantation.


I used Frederick Douglass's autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, because Frederick Douglass wrote about my fourth great grandfather in that autobiography. My fourth great grandfather was known as Doctor or Minister Isaac Copper. And I studied the landscape, material culture, cemeteries, and military records of the US. Colored troops because my great great grandfather, Isaac Copper, fought in the US. Colored troops. And so those are just some of the things that I used, and I also relied some on local lore.



What were some of the most surprising things that you discovered during your research process?


Isaac Copper USCT c. 1910 formerly enslaved great great grandfather, provided by the Weatherfords

Carole: The most surprising things both involve the man that I mentioned last, Isaac Copper, who fought in the US. College troops.


One was at an exhibition of art by a woman named Ruth Star Rose, who was also a resident of Copperville. She was a white resident of Copperville who came of age on a former plantation that her parents came down from Wisconsin to restore. So she was a painter. And I went to an exhibition of her artwork and I was unprepared for the fact that I was going to be actually seeing relatives in these paintings. They were relatives, most of whom I had never met. One of whom I suspect is my father. Of course I met my father, but it's a picture of him, I think, as a boy. But another artifact that was in that exhibition was a photograph of Isaac Copper, the one who fought in the US. Colored troops. And it was the first time I had ever seen his face. It's the only photograph. Well, I've since seen another photograph, but it's not close up enough to see his face. So, I mean, I just cherished that particular find. I by no means uncovered it, but I did encounter another thing, the other morsel also has to do with Isaac Copper, and it is that he was known locally as the Royal Black because he descended from African royalty. And that was the first time I had ever heard, you know, in essence, Jeffery and I descend from African royalty.


Dr Diane: I love that. And that's incredible to be able to find that and build those connections with your family, especially because one of the many tragedies of enslavement is not being able to trace genealogy and having that part of who you are denied to you.


Carole: Right. In fact, the year 1870 is considered the wall when it comes to African American genealogical searches, because that's the first census that really counted, not just counted, but named African Americans who had been enslaved. When African Americans were enslaved, they were not named in the census. They may have been counted in some way, but they were not named. So it can be very difficult to trace African American heritage. Prior to 1870, we were successful in tracing our roots thanks to those plantation records, to 1770.


Excerpts from Kin -- the stories, the relatives, and the illustrations


Prissy, p. 102-103 in Kin (a poem about an aunt to the third power)

Jeffery: My process, actually, for any illustration project, I read through the manuscript that my mom has, and I pick out the easiest ones and I do those first.


Carole: Which ones were the easiest ones? That's what I want to know, because I need to make it harder.


Jeffery: What were the easiest ones? That's a good question. The easiest ones were ones that I had picture references and models for. So some of them are kind of imaginative.

I think some of the hardest ones were the people in my family as I was imagining them, because the goal is, of course, to give them the proper respect in every manner that it should be given through the delivery of illustrations and the delivery of the stories. So those definitely took the longest. And a lot of times, if I couldn't find a suitable reference, I would use my family. And why not? Because it is a book about my family of course. -- Jeffery

Carole's 14 year old granddaughter, Jordan, is the model for the cover art. Jeffery notes that he did four different covers before they landed on the one you see here.


Jeffery: It was a bunch of back and forth. It was a headache. Back and forth, back and forth. And I delivered exactly what they wanted, not giving any resistance, just being the paintbrush, if you will, and being the medium to the vision. And we went through four variations of that until satisfaction was attained. And the cover that we see, I'm happy with it. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to place another family member on the front. And I think the color that the art team, as well as the design that was put forth is magnificent. So I love that team effort that I got to be part of for the cover.


Carole: And one thing I want to emphasize is that although this is a story about our family, it's also about the Kin community at White House. And it was a huge Kin community. The Lloyd family owned at one time on various farms — they owned more than one farm in the area — they owned more than a dozen farms in that area and farms in Mississippi as well. And the main house, the Great House Farm, it was called Home House. Home House had 300 enslaved residents living in a community called Long Green, which is just a driveway now. It's just a driveway into the plantation. But people were, there were lots of families and extended family members in that community.

And so I think this is the first time, other than Frederick Douglass's autobiography, that anyone has really looked at the lives of the people on that plantation and given voice to those people. And so I not only wanted to give voice to my family members, but also to other members of that community. At Long Green, there may seem to be a lot of characters, but that's why, because I felt like I would have been remiss to only give voice to my family members when so many other people lived there. And this was, really it was an agricultural factory. There were artisans, there were field hands, there were house servants. It took so many people to run that place and to enrich the enslavers, and I wanted to just give voice. It wasn't just my family members who were speaking to me, but other members of that Kin community were speaking to me as well. -- Carole

Dr Diane: The only thing I can think of that even comes close to touching this is Day of Tears. And that's all about a specific moment in Enslavement in the south. And yours sounds like it's providing a much richer context for the daily lives of people and understanding what that was like to be enslaved, what it was like to be part of a community and how your kin, the folks who are part of that Kin community are so much more than just a figure in a ledger somewhere that they were living, fleshed out real people. And hopefully this will help people understand the scope of the crimes that were committed and the resilience of the folks who were enslaved as well.


Carole has written a number of books that touch on enslavement, including Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, and others. She says that kids often ask why didn't they run away? Or they say, well, if it had been me, I would have run away, or I would have had an uprising.

But consider the fact that for many of the enslaved people in that community of 300 who just lived on that one plantation, that was one the only place they knew. It was surrounded by water. At least it was a peninsula, so they had water on several sides. The system of roads did not exist as it exists now. And furthermore, their family members were there. So fleeing meant not only fleeing Bondage, but it meant never seeing your family again. And so that takes a lot of reckoning to risk your life, to run away, to flee, and understand that means leaving your family. -- Carole

Can you walk us through some of the illustrations and share a little bit about your process and the context for them?


Chessie, The Chesapeake Bay Retriever, p. 104-105 in Kin: Rooted in Hope

Jeffery: This is actually one of my favorite illustrations in the book. It's an illustration digital scratchboard rendered in a technique that I developed myself. Scratchboard is a subtractive style of art where you're using the lightness to draw the composition instead of most forms of art, where you're drawing the darkness. The outline. So I draw with the light, and I work to be the light always as well. This spread is the poem in the book is from the perspective of a Chesapeake retriever. And this dog is named Chessie. And the dog is talking about how he has to do all these things. And one of the things that he has to do on the farm is chase slaves.


Carole: No, let me read it. Let me read it.


Jeffery: I'm wrong. Here we go.


Carole: Yeah, you're wrong. Yeah, you're wrong. That's the thing he doesn't do. He doesn't chase enslaved people. So I'll just read a little bit of it. More complex than the average gun dog. I have a stubborn streak, but a loyal heart. I would never bite hands that feed me. I guard my owners ferociously and can track or sniff out trouble if pressed into service. But don't think that I relish running with the packs of bloodhounds, foxhounds, Scottish staghounds, bulldogs or curs that patrollers sic on runaways. Catching Black people is not my idea of sport.


And so this dog, the Chesapeake Bay retriever that Jeffery drew, was a breed of retriever that was actually bred at White House. It originated at White House, and they say it was probably some other type of retriever that bred with Newfoundland. And it has an odor, I understand it has very oily skin and that allows it to get in icy waters and retrieve waterfowl.



Chicken Sue, p. 92-93 in Kin: Rooted in Hope

Jeffery takes us through the art that accompanies the poem, Chicken Sue, about a farm hand who kept the chickens, had a small flock of her own, and also witnessed the roosters fight each other. He notes that Chicken Sue had an affinity for the hens in the way a child would for animals that she takes care of. He used a reference photo of a young Haitian girl to capture that affection for the hens depicted in the scratchboard portrait.


Carole: Let me just read the last two lines. She cherishes these birds because she's able to sell them. But she says," I fret when a hen goes missing, but if I clip their wings, I fear forgetting how to fly." Sometimes in the book, in the poems, these multivoice first person poems, the enslaved character transfers their own aspirations onto an animal or something that they do with an animal. So she transfers the notion of freedom that she holds in her heart to these birds that can fly a little bit. They can fly more than she can fly. Chickens, of course, can't fly that far or that high. And then elsewhere in the book, that thirst for freedom gets transferred to sailboats or to a horse.


Portrait of Frederick Douglass, p. 46-47 in Kin: Rooted in Hope

Jeffery next shares a portrait he illustrated of Frederick Douglass for the book.


Jeffery: So Frederick Douglass, he actually wrote about one of our ancestors. And this is a portrait, of course, of Frederick Douglass, which I had a reference photo for. Again, I like images where I have very clear reference photos that I can see the details. It definitely changes the end result of the illustration. And this image, I wanted it to be very piercing as I learned while I was doing research for this that he was the most photographed man in America.

I wanted to give a strong representation to that energy that is Frederick Douglass, the icon. -- Jeffery

Carole: Of course, that's the conundrum of being an illustrator. When you do this fantastic realistic piece of art, and then you see the layout, and it's teeny tiny. So, I mean, that happens every time. You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman — Jeffery had an airplane that he did in great detail, and it wound up, the airplanes, they reproduced three of the airplanes, I think, on the cover, and they were maybe two or three inches long, maybe two inches long each. But that doesn't take away from the skill that Jeffery put into the artwork.



Nanny/Nancy/Nan Cooper, p. 80-81 from Kin: Rooted in Hope

Carole: My fourth great grandmother was Nan Copper. Essentially she worked in the great house, but I believe, because she was called Nan and Nanny, that she was probably a wet nurse. And so Jeffery depicted her breastfeeding, a white infant, a white baby. And just as a mother, that one is particularly touching to me.


Young Isaac, p. 74-75 in Kin: Rooted in Hope

Carole: And then there's another illustration that reminds me of Jeffery. Young Isaac Copper, our fourth great grandfather, is looking out over the Wye River, perhaps imagining freedom


Are there plans to display these illustrations in an art gallery or a show so people can see them?


Jeffery: We have a few exhibitions and stops planned for this. We will be producing some type of prints for each location so you can see the details and see what the artwork looks like without the book. And of course, I plan on being at these locations as well to give more in depth explanations and insights to the artwork and the process behind the work.


To find out when they are touring and sharing the illustrations, visit https://cbweatherford.com or https://jbweatherford.wordpress.com.


What are you hoping that the reader takes away from this collaboration?


Carole touches burial grove plaque as part of her research for Kin: Rooted in Hope.
I hope that readers will understand that knowledge of one's heritage is a form of generational wealth and that our stories are our treasures. So regardless of, I mean, it's certainly worthwhile to embark upon a genealogical quest, but I think it's equally important to embellish that tree with some foliage and the foliage that's the stories. And so while people are alive in your family, talk to them. Collect the stories, and as you do research, if you can't find stories, imagine them. Imagine them. That's allowed. I give everyone creative license to do that. -- Carole


Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole you've got over 70 books that have been published, right. How do you decide who you want to write about?


Carole: I write about people that I admire who intrigue me, but even if they intrigue me, I've got to admire them. I'm not going to waste my time writing about somebody that I don't admire. Or if I write about a historical event that is harrowing, I write about it because I think people need to know about it. Maybe in some cases, like The Tulsa Race Massacre, new information about it was suppressed, and so many people didn't know about it. And I thought it was a seminal but albeit horrific event in American history. I thought that people needed to know about it. So it's got to interest me first of all, and I think I need to think that it's of a significance to young people or a wider audience. And also, I don't want too many other books to have been written about it. If I can, I'd like to be first. And beyond that, hopefully there's a market for it. So I tend to write about obscure subject matter. And if it's so obscure that I think there's no market for it, I'm probably not going to pursue it, at least not at this stage in my life.


And as you're going through and doing the research on your books, how do you decide what to include and what to leave out? Because I'm imagining, as you're researching events and people, there's way more than you can fit into a picture book.


Carole: That's always hard. I look for the details that are going to resonate most with the reader, of course, the detail, and also develop the character or develop the story. And you're right. I can't include everything. It's tempting, and it was particularly, especially tempting in Kin with 300 people living at White House, but I couldn't include 300 voices, so I had to pick ones that would be perhaps archetypes for those that I could not include.



Jeffery Boston Weatherford

Jeffery, as you're receiving all the words, how do you go about deciding what to include in terms of detail in the illustrations?


Jeffery: So as I'm reading the manuscript, I kind of get visions. I don't know any other word to kind of say, but, yeah, I kind of get visions about the story, and I see the images and the ones that speak to me first and fast. Again, I called it easy, but I don't know, maybe it's not. It's just they speak to me more, and those are the ones that I choose, and I work to kind of continue whatever subject matter, I guess, like, expound upon them in the images that don't speak to me, if that makes sense. Almost like if there's mention of a person in one poem and then there's a mention of them in another, I might take components from the first poem that was speaking to me to translate into the next poem, like a field or a house or what they were carrying or their clothing. Just something to create continuity between the artwork.


What brings you hope?

Children in general give me hope because they have so much heart and such a strong sense of justice and sense of joy. -- Carole


Listen to the entire podcast episode here:

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Timestamps for the podcast:

Meet author/illustrator team Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffery Boston Weatherford (also mother and son). Carole has authored 70+ books, including award winning Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre; Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom; and All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jeffery's beautiful illustrations can be found in We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airman. On this episode, we celebrate the book birthday of their new, incredibly powerful joint venture Kin: Rooted in Hope ( I devoured it in one sitting), and we talk about how this duo brings nonfiction to life. [01:20]: We discuss their experience collaborating as a mother-son duo. [03:01]: Carole talks about their long history of collaboration and how working on books is different from everyday tasks. [03:30]: We discuss the genesis of Kin: Rooted in Hope. [04:46]: Carole and Jeffery discuss their family's ancestral farm and the inspiration behind Kin. [06:15]: Carole discusses the research process for Kin and shares some surprising discoveries she made along the way. [12:48]: Carole reads a poem about Prissy Copper and explains its significance. [14:55]: Jeffery discusses his approach to illustrating the book. [19:40]: We reflect on how Kin provides a rich context for understanding the lives of enslaved people. [21:10] : Jeffery discusses his technique and the inspiration behind specific illustrations. [26:54]: Jeffery shares an illustration of Frederick Douglass and its significance. [28:07]: Carole highlights some of her favorite illustrations and their emotional impact. [31:38]: Carole expresses the hope that readers will understand the value of preserving family stories and heritage.

[34:33] Carole talks about her childhood and how her parents, both educators, nurtured her interests in poetry and visual arts.

[35:41] Jeffery discusses how his mother recognized his artistic talent and encouraged his journey in the arts.

[37:21] Dr. Diane shares the story of Archie Williams, the first African American meteorologist in the United States.

[38:49] They discuss their involvement in STEM education, including hip hop workshops and a project about artist MC Escher, inspired by mathematics.

[42:03] Carole discusses her criteria for choosing subjects to write about, including admiration, significance, and market demand.

[44:23] Jeffery talks about how he envisions illustrations while reading the manuscript and selects images that resonate with him.

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