Before she was an award-winning children’s author, Andrea Davis Pinkney was a woman struck by the lack of diversity in children’s books. It was a bone she would pick with her husband Brian, Davis Pinkney told mater mea.
“I was saying to him, ‘Call your editor at this publishing company, here’s an idea for them,’” she said in our interview. “He finally just said to me one day, ‘Why don’t you do that? You should write the books you want to see on bookshelves!’”
That bit of advice brought Davis Pinkney from the magazine world into children’s publishing, and spawned a collaboration between husband and wife that has created iconic books that children of all races have loved over the years, including the Coretta Scott King Award winner Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America.
After collaborating for almost as many years as they’ve been married, we wondered what that process was like for the couple. Davis Pinkney tells us in her own words.
Most authors and illustrators don’t sit down and collaborate together. The publisher keeps them apart. That’s because an artist should feel free to have his or her own creative vision, and an author is allowed to have his or her creative vision—the two should not be informing the other. They don’t talk on the phone or hang out at Starbucks.
But I’ve got a different situation. I’m married to the guy who illustrates many of my books. We share a home and a family. I’m living with the illustrator who says, “The eggs are ready!”
We’ve done a couple of things to employ a traditional author/illustrator work scenario—and to stay happily married. One is that Brian’s studio is not in our home; it’s in a different neighborhood in Brooklyn, and I never go there. I don’t obsess about what he’s working on, or how the paintings are happening. I don’t wonder how his illustrations are coming along; I see the artwork when it’s done.
Also, Brian and I have a “work” meeting once a week every Saturday from 10:30 in the morning to about 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s when we collaborate. Brian has read my manuscripts throughout the week, I’ve looked at his sketches, and then we come together at that time and go over all the business: the books we’re working on, the calendar, the travel schedule, the kids’ calendars, the taxes, the checks, the babysitter, the house stuff.
We’ve come up with some very helpful guidelines. They seem corny, but they really work. For example, there’s no cross-talk allowed during our Saturday meeting. We take turns: “Ok, you talk, then I talk.” There’s no cutting the person off. And then when that meeting is done, it’s done. We cannot later say, “Oh, one more thing about the manuscript” or “Oh, I forgot to mention our agent called.” The reason for that is because as a husband-and-wife creative team, we could be talking about work 24/7, and we don’t want to be doing that when there are so many other things to enjoy, like our family, movies, books, cooking. When we established what is a healthy boundary around our work lives, we said, “We have to contain this.” So we do.