The People Remember is an exquisite book that every member of the family will appreciate. In powerful, moving verse, National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi (American Street) weaves together the history of African Americans with the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The book is illustrated by acclaimed artist Loveis Wise, whose stunning, vibrant images perfectly complement Zoboi’s text. Zoboi and Wise discuss the creation of the book and how they each hope readers will connect with it.
Ibi, The People Remember is both a journey through the seven principles of Kwanzaa and a timeline of African American history. By braiding together the principles and history, did you come to see aspects of either in a new way?
Author Ibi Zoboi: Absolutely! There were specific moments in Black history that highlight each of the principles. It just so happens that I got to Ujamaa (cooperative economics) during Black Wall Street and the Harlem Renaissance. Kuumba (creativity) landed right in the middle of the hip-hop movement. There are highs and lows throughout Black history, and the Kwanzaa principles demonstrate how we’ve survived and thrived through it all.
The People Remember is your first picture book. What did you enjoy about this new form?
Zoboi: Since The People Remember is written in free verse, it is simply a very long poem. I’ve always written poetry, so it came naturally to me. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to get 400 years of Black history into 2,000 words or so.
Loveis, you’re one of the first people in the world to have read Ibi’s words in this book. How did you feel after that very first read?
Illustrator Loveis Wise: I remember feeling excited, and I intuitively felt the importance and warmth of what this book would bring. At the time, I really wanted to create a body of work that focused on ancestral connections, and The People Remember was the perfect way for me to explore more.
What’s your favorite illustration from the book?
Wise: My favorite is the spread focusing on Mami Wata and the children that she’s protecting underwater. This piece felt very kindred to me because of its stillness, but it also feels very powerfully divine.
Zoboi: My favorite illustration is the one where two ancestors are hugging one tree, but from opposite spaces in place and time. When I first saw it, it took my breath away. This spread perfectly captures what this book is all about.
Which principle of Kwanzaa do you feel an especially strong personal connection to?
Zoboi: Ujamaa, which means cooperative economics. I hope all Black people all over the world can get to a place where we are self-sufficient.
Wise: Kuumba, because it highlights the creativity and the magic we create through transformation and resiliency!
What place do you hope this book finds in the homes and hearts of young readers and their families?
Wise: I hope this book inspires, answers questions and encourages readers to celebrate the beauty of Kwanzaa’s principles with their community.
Zoboi: The People Remember belongs in every home with every type of family. There are lots of opinions out there about Kwanzaa, but I wanted to contextualize why it’s a much-needed cultural celebration. I want educators and caretakers to ask young readers what they would do if they forgot how to play a favorite game or words to a favorite song. They would make up new ones, right? This is exactly how Kwanzaa came to be, and why it is still celebrated decades after its inception. It is a testament to how not all is ever lost. We always remember.