Author Interview with Gayle Pitman

Why do you write books for children?

I have a friend who is a children’s book author and illustrator, and several years ago she decided to quit her job as a tenured professor in order to pursue a more creative life. She started teaching classes about writing and illustrating children’s books, and she encouraged (well, pressured, really) me to sign up. I said I would – I have a hard time saying “no” – and then thought “oh wow, what did I just get myself into?” But it turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. I also had no idea how hard it is to write a high-quality story for children! It’s much harder than it looks. Taking that class showed me how to be creative in an entirely new way, and writing for children fuels me in ways that I can’t really put into words.  

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There’s another reason why I do this, though. Not long after I took that class, I started playing with the idea of writing a story about an LGBTQ+ Pride celebration. When I was researching comps, I was stunned to find that not only were there very few picture books featuring LGBTQ+ themes, but only one had ever been written about a Pride parade (and it was published almost thirty years ago). That was so disturbing to me – that LGBTQ+ people were virtually invisible in children’s books. And I see on a daily basis what that invisibility does to a community. Most of my college students (including those who are LGBTQ+ identified) have never heard of the Pink Scare, or the Stonewall Riots, or the AIDS crisis, for that matter. They know about HIV, but they don’t know how the gay community was decimated by it. That lack of knowledge is terrifying to me, and I want children AND adults to know about our history, our culture, and how we got here. That’s why I wrote books like This Day in June, When You Look Out the Window (a book about Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin), and Sewing the Rainbow (my latest book about Gilbert Baker and the creation of the rainbow flag).

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