Don Tate is the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children. His bold and dynamic art has been noted for it’s versatility of style, though Don does not feel his art represents any so-called trademark style.
IT JES’ HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, (Lee & Low Books, 2012) (ages 4-up) marks his debut as an author. It Jes’ Happened is a Lee & Low New Voices Honor winner, and an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor winner, 2012. It received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal, as well as being selected as a Kirkus Best Children’s Books List Selection, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, 2012, and a New York Public Library Top 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, and more! Also honored as a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2012. For more info, visit his site!
Soon after It Jes’ Happened published last year, my editor started sending congratulatory emails whenever the book received a nice mention in a review journal or made an end-of-year Best-of list. Earlier this spring, she sent an email containing the words “Ezra Jack Keats” and “Award,” I figured that Greg Christie, the illustrator, had won something for his wonderful art. But not me. Then I read the email again, and I was floored to realize it was an award for the writing.
How has this award changed you? Do you write differently because of it?
The award hasn’t changed the way I write, but it has given me a boost of confidence. My name, in a small way, will forever be associated with the great Ezra Jack Keats, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, and the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. The jacketflap of an upcoming book describes me as ‘Ezra Jack Keats honor award-winning author, Don Tate.’ What a way to write in confidence!
You have recently gone through a plethora of career transitions. From illustrator to author, then on top of that, going from graphic reporter to author, illustrator, and speaker. What prompted these changes and how are you adjusting?
For the past 16 years, I worked as a full-time newsroom artist at the Des Moines Register, and as a graphics reporter at the Austin American Statesman (I illustrated children’s books on the side). During that time, I witnessed the downsizing of newspapers. A lot of very talented people lost their jobs, and I figured my days were numbered, too. To prepare for what was obviously inevitable, I asked my bosses to be released from my full-time status. This would allow me to devote more time to my career as a children’s book illustrator, author, and speaker. This past January, the inevitable happened, I was laid-off from the newspaper. The experience was both scary and liberating at the same time. Scary because I lost my steady income source. Liberating because I was now earning my income by doing what I wanted to do. When I’m invited to speak at a school or conference, I don’t have to ask anyone permission to take a day off or worry about switching schedules with a coworker.
What are your biggest career challenges?
The biggest challenge is in balancing book-making-time with speaking time. I visit and speak at a lot of schools and conferences. It’s a part of the job. Speaking earns decent income and allows for promoting my books. But it also steals valuable time away from book making. Income may become a challenge. Until this week, I was living on severance income from the paper. That ran out. So from this day forward, children’s books are my sole income source. I’ll need to be creative, productive, resourceful.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m in the process of selling my next authored book. I’ve received an offer and have accepted. It’s the story of a young boy who wanted to learn how to read at a time in this country when reading was outlawed for African-Americans. It’s an important story for every child.
Where do you want to be in the next ten years?
In the next ten years, I’ll be doing what I’m doing today: Writing, illustrating, speaking. Again, I love what I’m doing, so I see no change there.