Austin writer Gloria Amescua on how Luz Jiménez's life inspired her picture book
It was a moment Gloria Amescua remembers well more than two decades later.
She was at the University of Texas’ Ransom Center for a poetry reading and saw a pamphlet about Luz Jiménez. The model for many revered Mexican artists, including Fernando Leal and Diego Rivera, Jiménez also was an accomplished storyteller and keeper of indigenous history. Her story was captivating.
“I almost feel as if Luz Jiménez chose me,” Amescua said in a recent phone interview. “I immediately knew I had to write about her.”
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That started the 74-year-old Austin poet, writer and educator’s publishing journey. “Child of The Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua” (Abrams, $18.99), her debut picture book about Jiménez, arrives Tuesday. She launches it virtually Aug. 29.
Multiple award-winning artist Duncan Tonatiuh illustrated the book, which already has been tapped as a Junior Library Guild selection.
Amescua dug into learning all she could about Jiménez, wrote an award-winning book-length poem about her and began honing her craft through classes at the Writing Barn outside Austin. Through research that included interviews with scholars and Jiménez’s grandson, Amescua traced Jiménez’s life from tiny Milpa Alta, Mexico, to Mexico City, where her work with artists, professors and anthropologists preserved indigenous Nahua culture.
“Luz was a ‘living link’ to the Aztecs. … Her memories were some of the precious few written in the lively voice of one of their own as it was disappearing in the wind,” Amescua writes in the book, both a lyrical walk through Jiménez’s life and a testament to preventing cultural erasure. Jiménez died in 1965.
The story held particular resonance for Amescua, as Jiménez’s perseverance echoed Amescua’s own interest in connecting with her Mexican heritage.
Growing up in 1950s Austin, she always spoke English with her parents, who thought that would help her succeed more easily at school. “I grew up not speaking Spanish, and feeling very embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn't speak Spanish, that I wasn't fluent,” she said.
As an adult, though, she craved more connection. “I admired Luz because she had pride in her language and her culture,” she said.
In addition to studying Spanish, Amescua, a lifelong writer, began to study children’s book writing in earnest. She joined the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, eventually spending nearly six years working on her manuscript before securing a contract with Abrams Books. Seeing her work in print from a major publisher is a thrill, she said, but she also hopes her young readers will learn something from Luz.
“I hope that they believe in themselves, and take pride in who they are and their culture,” she said.
Lindsay Leslie, Don Tate books arrive this month
Two more Austin authors launch their new picture books at BookPeople this month.
Lindsay Leslie celebrates the joys of reading and imagination in “So You Want To Build a Library” (Capstone, $17.99), illustrated by Aviel Basel. It’s a fanciful romp through a kid-built library with not just books, but a sundae bar and water slide. She teams with Julie Falatko, whose epistolary “Yours in Books” (Cameron Kids, $17.99), illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo, is a tribute to both reading and companionship. Their virtual event is at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Prolific and award-winning author-illustrator Don Tate spotlights artist Ernie Barnes in his newest picture-book biography, “Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes” (Abrams, $18.99). Tate shows us Barnes’ childhood in Durham, N.C., where he’d pore through art books at houses his mother cleaned. Bullied by his classmates, he turned to football, but even while playing for professional teams, he continued to study and practice his own art.
Tate deftly depicts for young readers how Barnes nurtured his passion for visual art even as those around him sidelined or outright mocked it. It’s a powerful look at being true to yourself. He’ll talk about the book at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Registration for both events is free. Signed and personalized books are for sale. Tackle it all at bookpeople.com/event.
Gloria Amescua book launch
Gloria Amescua will talk about “Child of the Flower-Song People” at 3 p.m. Aug. 29 in a virtual event at the Writing Barn. Signed copies of the book are available through BookPeople. Event registration is free at www.gloriaamescua.com/eventsnews.