Interview with Pat Cummings

I had the honor of speaking to another one of the contributors to the stirring anthology WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES.

Pat CummingsPat Cummings is the award winning author and illustrator of dozens of books for young readers. Her piece “We’ve Got You” is an empowering poem for children with an incredibly powerful illustration and a last line that will stay with young readers and activists as a reminder of how they will change the world.

Supriya Kelkar: Can you tell me about the striking art you created for “We’ve Got You”? Which medium did you use?

Pat Cummings: Thank you! I used watercolor, gouache and pencil and then digitally added the collaged newspaper clippings.

SK: How did you decide what newspaper headlines and images to use?

PC: Considering all that is constantly being reported about police harassing and killing black people, I wanted to use imagery that spoke to young people in particular. There are too many examples of police atrocities to choose from but I know Trayvon Martin’s hoodie is a graphic image that would be immediately recognizable. And headlines that involve children seemed to me to be what the image is about: the impact of all this oppressive violence on our children.

We've got you
From “We’ve Got You” by Pat Cummings in WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018)

SK: You have created a comforting and empowering counter-narrative to the voices of hate and oppression in “We’ve Got You.” When do you first remember realizing the power of writing as a form of resistance?

PC: I think when I first arrived at college and became familiar with the writing of Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka was when I first realized that words had the power to activate. I knew words could provoke change and make a real impression because I’ve always been an avid reader. But I think that was a tumultuous time and writers were using their voices as a call to action.

SK: I love how the children’s eyes say so much. To me, they are looking for comfort and reassurance yet they are also like that brewing storm you mention in the piece that will change our world. What would you say to a child who was nervous to raise their voice?

PC: I do feel that receiving comfort and reassurance are essential to make children feel secure. But knowing that they have support behind them would hopefully help them feel strong enough to speak up when they need to be heard. I would hope that every child has a loving adult who they KNOW has their back, who loves them unconditionally and who will be there for them. I think part of the fear of raising your voice for children or adults comes from fear of reprisal or even disapproval. So, embedding children with a sense of emotional support can only make them stronger.

Learn more about Pat Cummings:

we rise

WE RISE, WE RESIST, WE RAISE OUR VOICES, (Crown Books for Young Readers, published in partnership with Just Us Books, September 4, 2018), an anthology edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, features diverse authors and illustrators answering the question, “In this divisive world, what shall we tell our children?” It’s a great resource for young activists, for children struggling with the questions being raised in today’s world, and their parents.

Read the interview with Evelyn Coleman, another anthology contributor.