First-time author Kim Taylor shares a powerful story about the celebration of the first Juneteenth through moving words and unique illustrations in her book, “A Flag for Juneteenth.”
Taylor, who resides on Long Island, NY, first became inspired to begin writing after she learned about Juneteenth through a local event.
“In 2014 I went to a Juneteenth celebration at a local church and I was just floored by the beauty of the ceremony. They had folk singers, soul food and poetry, and it was just really, really cool,” Taylor said. “So I started to read everything I could about Juneteenth.”
“A Flag for Juneteenth” tells the story of a close-knit community of enslaved African American slaves living and working on a plantation in Texas the day before the announcement that all enslaved people are free. The book focuses on a young girl named Huldah, who is not only preparing to celebrate her 10th birthday, but also embrace all the changes that Juneteenth will bring to her life.
An example of the hand-sewn quilt illustration that graces the pages of author Kim Taylor’s book, “A Flag for Juneteenth.” (Courtesy/Kim Taylor)
“It is a children’s book so I had to really decide what I wanted to emphasize and I really wanted to make this kind of a gateway to learning more about Juneteenth,” Taylor said. “It’s seems like a good story for children, a good beginning.”
It’s not just Taylor’s words that draw readers into the story, it’s her hand-sewn quilt illustrations that are featured in the book.
“Originally, I really wanted the illustrations to be done in watercolor. But both of my agents kept pushing me to use quilting to illustrate the story,” she said. “I refused at first. It would be so much work and I was nervous that maybe kids wouldn’t be able to connect with my quilting style.”
However, after persistent coaxing from her agents, Taylor agreed to not only write the text but create the illustrations for the book, as well.
First-time author Kim Taylor is a self-taught textile artist, Speech-Language Pathologist and administrator at a local school for the deaf. (Courtesy/Kim Taylor)
For each page, Taylor painstakingly created a special mini-quilt to accompany the text — 26 quilted illustrations in all. Taylor worked on the quilted illustrations for a year before they were ready to be scanned and turned into pages for the book.
“These are not big pieces, they are like 15-inches by 15-inches, so it was like putting together tiny little puzzle pieces. It was a lot of work,” she said. “I’m thrilled with the way they came out. I’m so happy I did it because I feel like it’s really a beautiful book and really different than anything else out there.”
Taylor started learning to quilt in 2009, just after President Barack Obama was elected to office.
“I began quilting because I really wanted to process what I was feeling about him being elected in this country that wasn’t always a possibility for African Americans,” she explained. “I was really, really overwhelmed by emotion and was trying to figure out a way to express that in a way that I could connect with my ancestors.”
After doing some research, Taylor learned that women in central and west Africa as well as African Americans who were enslaved did a lot of story quilting.
“I decided to teach myself and that’s what I did. It was a learn-as-you-go type of thing and I had so much fun learning about it,” Taylor explained. “I fell like I am so much better than when I first started.”
Each of the illustrations in author Kim Taylor’s book have been lovingly hand sewn and quilted, giving the book a homespun, tactile quality that is altogether unique. (Courtesy/Kim Taylor)
Taylor uses a Juki sewing machine for her free-motion quilting.
Holding the finished product in her hands for the first time, Taylor was amazed by the entire process from idea to writing and quilting pages to the final part, printing the book.
“I was like, there’s no way I did this. But, I was a part of it of course and I did it, but I was so involved and so connected in the moment of it, that when I saw it at the end, I was just amazed,” Taylor explained. “The pages came out with all the texture that in the quilts. They just came out beautifully.”
When not writing and quilting, Taylor works as a speech-language pathologist and administrator at a school for the deaf. Taylor, who lives with her daughter and “very mischievous dog,” enjoys bird watching, mediating and gardening in her downtown.
“A Flag for Juneteenth” can be purchased online at Amazon, Penguin Random House, Holiday House Publishing and Barnes & Nobles.
This article was originally published in Greeley Tribune