Interview: Ashleigh Corrin’s Art Is Honest And Playful, Like Work Of Ezra Jack Keats

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I rate books with roses instead of stars in memory of my grandmother, who died before I was born. I’ve never met my Lola Rose, but because of the stories my relatives tell about her and her impact on their lives, I feel a connection with her. This is also true for illustrator Ashleigh Corrin, who has never met her late grandmother, but also has a strong connection to her.

“Grandma has had an impact on my life, and from her, I learned the importance of legacy and to care for what we leave behind by being intentional about what we do now,” Ashleigh Corrin said.

Part of her legacy will be her first children’s book, Layla’s Happiness for which she recently won the 2020 Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award. (Check out my review here.)

I really think that Ashleigh Corrin’s art is similar to Ezra Jack Keats’. She calls her work “honest and playful,” and just like Keats, she represents black characters in her art, and her illustrations in Layla’s Happiness really show what it’s like to be a kid, to be carefree and silly, fun-loving and happy. Layla reminds me a lot of Peter from A Snowy Day.

One cool thing is that the author of Layla’s Happiness won the Ezra Jack Keats Writer Honor for the same book! Her name is Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and I’ve interviewed her before, too.

Read the illustrators’ interview below:

Question: What was it like to receive the Ezra Jack Keats award?

Answer: Unbelievable. This was my first time illustrating a children’s book. I was very nervous and scared.  Receiving this award was reassuring and encouraging. I’m also so happy that this is the book to have received the award for because the story that Ekere tells is so meaningful and so powerful. I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to bring it to life. And happy to be honored for that.

Q: What tools do you use to illustrate books?

A: I illustrate using a mix of pencil drawings and Photoshop. 

Q: You said your talent for books comes from your late Grandmother. What are your best memories with her?

A: I actually never met her. So, as I mentioned before, this is how legacy is so powerful. I’ve gotten to know her through stories my mom, aunt, grandfather, and people that knew her, would tell me about her. I meet people and they say she was an incredible woman. What an impression she must of made for so many to speak of her the way they do! And I hope I can leave a positive impression and meaningful impact on those that I encounter. Some things she did: Designed and sewed my mom and aunts wedding dresses; created her own makeup line; opened a beauty shop; performed sit-ins at local establishments during the Civil Rights Era; was a model; valedictorian of her high school; and more. 

Q: What words would you use to describe your artwork?

A: Textured; emotive; honest; playful 

Q: What was the best part of working on Layla’s Happiness?

A: Meeting Ekere and Claudia Bedrick (publisher of Enchanted Lion). Our collaboration felt honest and supportive, and I think that is why Layla has been successful. 

Some of Ashleigh Corrin’s art below. You can also view her website here.

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