Painter Kadir Nelson’s artwork accompanies children’s book of ‘I Have A Dream’ speech

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 03:32 PM

“I Have A Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., paintings by Kadir Nelson
(Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House, hardcover, $18.99)


When Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday became a federal holiday in the 1983, Kadir Nelson was just a kid. He remembers the push for the holiday. Before it became official, Nelson’s elementary school in Atlantic City decided to observe it anyway. First-grader Nelson recalls the Stevie Wonder song “Happy Birthday” playing all day at school.
Acclaimed oil painter Nelson has released a new book published by Random House Children’s Books imprint Schwartz & Wade Books. “I Have A Dream” features the text of the most quoted part of King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington and illustrated with Nelson’s paintings. The hardcover book also includes a CD of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech so children and adults can listen to the civil rights leader’s words.
Nelson’s artwork has been seen in books, galleries, institutions and advertising. Collectors of Nelson’s work include the U.S. House of Representatives, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Venus Williams, the San Diego Padres, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Lil Kim and most recently, the estate of Michael Jackson, as Nelson created the cover art of the late performer’s posthumous album. His books about African and African-American history include “Testing the Ice: A True Story about Jackie Robinson,” written by Sharon Robinson, and “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans,” which Nelson both wrote and illustrated. Another children’s book, written and illustrated by Nelson, has just been published by HarperCollins, called “Nelson Mandela.” It also features the bright, vivid images of history.
“These pay tribute to historical icons like King and Mandela. I hope all readers can share and celebrate the legacy of these leaders,” Nelson said. With the King book, he said he was not looking to recreate a photograph but create something new.
“I was really thankful, grateful to create artwork to accompany Martin Luther King’s words as a complement [to the speech],” he said.
“The power and resonance of Dr. King’s words in that speech are still very powerful. Whenever I hear or watch him, it literally stops me in my tracks because it is so moving, to watch those words being spoken. It’s still a powerful piece of literature,” Nelson said.
The book begins with King’s words: “I say to you today, my friends, that even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” and illustrated with a painting of King in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial. The full text of the speech is printed at the end of the book.
Nelson said it’s important to share that part of American history with children honestly, not glossed over.
“The book is a tribute to Dr. King and his legacy. It’s a part of the American story, American history, and what many of us hold dear to our hearts. The speech is long lasting because of the truth King spoke,” he said.

Illustrator appearance:
5 p.m. Jan. 27
Flyleaf Books
752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill