Ibram X. Kendi, a New York Times best-selling author, is coming to the University of the Arts(UArts) in Philadelphia on Sept. 23 to release his new children’s book, “Magnolia Flower.” The book is based on a short story by the late great writer Zora Neale Hurston with illustration by Loveis Wise, a recent University of the Arts alumni.
The event will center on a conversation between Kendi and Wise titled Radical Devotion: a Philly Conversation. The focus will be the convergence of art, activism and literature.
Harriet’s Bookshop, whose owner, Jeannine Cook, is also a UArts alum, is a co-sponsor of the event.
Kendi shared what inspired him to write the book.
“This picture book is a testament to the brilliance that is Zora Neale Hurtston. I wanted to re-imagine this classic short story that she wrote in 1925 for children. Children need love stories, they need characters like “Magnolia Flowers” who despite pain are able to experience joy.”
Zora Neale Hurston is a writer more known for her iconic novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Many weren’t aware that she had written something for young people.
Kendi shared how he discovered the story “This story in particular Magnolia Flower begins with a dancing brook coming up to a mighty river begging the river to tell a mighty love story. As somebody who reads regular picture books to my six year old daughter, knowing that she loves characters from the natural world, I knew that would interest her. The story of this afro-indigenous girl who becomes interested in someone and her father says no and she decides to pursue this anyways. It’s just a beautiful story and the imagery from the natural world I felt could sweetly be adapted for young children.”
The topic then shifted to the discussion he will have at the University of the Arts this Friday, especially in this climate of book banning.
“The bigger picture is why are these books being banned and what that says about the state of this country and what that says about knowledge and information and truth in multiple perspectives and different people seeing themselves in stories. There is just an all out effort either to distract people from the true issues of the day or to make people believe that it isn’t in their interest to understand or appreciate the multiplicity of the United States or the World as well as how racism lived in the past and how racism still lives today, he explained.
He adds “When people aren’t taught the truth how can they know a problem exists. To me this part of a larger issue and I hope we speak about that in Philadelphia. I suspect we will because knowing Philadephians, we’re gonna have to bring the real.”
It was also discussed how education is advertised. According to the mainstream media, only white parents are concerned about their children’s education. In a city like Philadelphia, where a large portion of the population is working class and many parents work multiple jobs, it is difficult for them to attend school board meetings. Furthermore, funding for inner-city children is being cut. Kendi shed some light on the skewed reporting.
“When I think of communities and what communities need I think it’s incredibly important for our children to have access to books and being read, too. When I think about how to ensure that this is happening, I think it’s important for us to think about how we expand the offerings in public libraries. How do we provide books to families? How do we provide more resources via wages so that they can work less hours, so they have more time to read to their children? How do you systematize reading in the schools so that Black parents don’t feel they have to supplement the regular education system with particular books that are anti-racist? I have confidence that parents will be able to do that.”