Be Inspired

Kadir Nelson on Resonance

#Be Inspired

For thousands of years, storytelling has not only been a way to expand our imagination and knowledge, but also a way to represent and reflect our culture, experiences, and individualities to both ourselves and each other. And although established, seasoned writers have often already zeroed in on what sets us apart or brings us together, young writers have not yet been influenced by the canon to know the differences between diverse representation and simply depicting the world. Unlike many adult writers, they don’t need the reminder for accurate, genuine representation. That comes inherently. Their writing reflects the world that they see—without prejudice or hate, and with unadulterated perspectives and unbound imaginations.

However, in order to foster such authentic world view and creativity, it is more important than ever for the stories that they encounter as they grow up to reflect their own, diverse experiences. Important for them to see characters who look like them or live like them in popular culture—and through that, to understand their culture, heritage, and more—so they do not lose that unlimited imagination. American painter, illustrator, and author Kadir Nelson speaks to the importance of such representation and resonance in the quote above. After earning his BFA at the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York, Kadir would go on to write and/or illustrate over 30 picture books, including Brothers of the Knight by actress Debbie Allen, a contemporary retelling of the fairy tale Twelve Dancing Princesses. He would work with the likes of Will Smith and Spike Lee, and has received three NAACP Image Awards for his illustrated picture books. Throughout this extensive body of work, Kadir focused on using beautiful, deeply affecting imagery to highlight African-American culture and history. And in doing so, has brought representation and learning to children around the world. 

In his quote, Kadir talks about creating a mirror for his readers and allowing them to resonate with his work. And many of us—as readers—have likely felt that deep joy and resonance of seeing ourselves in other people’s worlds and words. Though children may not set out to create such mirrors or hold up such lights when they write, they inadvertently do so by just offering us their stories and perspectives. So the next time a young writer might be struggling with self-doubt or motivation, perhaps we can remind them gently that there are readers out there waiting to see themselves in their words. Just like they might have done in their favourite works.