A fresh approach to exploring interracial communication…a brave and touching portrayal worthy of sharing in classrooms across America.
— Kirkus, starred review
The poems delicately demonstrate the complexity of identity and the power of communication to build friendships.
— Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
Young readers searching for means to have difficult, emotional, and engaged discussions about race will find an enlightening resource in Irene and Charles’ explorations.
Can I Touch Your Hair? is a beautifully direct yet somehow outstandingly subtle work that will allow young readers to navigate and understand their places in their communities and the greater world.
— Shelf Awareness
Please tell us about your book.
Inspired by a book of poems for adults, CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine, this collection of poems is a conversation between two fifth grade students — one black, one white — about their lives, identities and relationships, through the prism of race. There are poems about ordinary things like shoes and hair and also more difficult topics like the N word and police brutality.
How did the idea for Can I Touch Your Hair come about? Did you know the story was to be told through poetry from the start, or was this something you discovered as the work progressed?
The book was a collection of paired poems from the very start. Our editor Carol Hinz is one of those gems in the publishing world who not only loves to read poetry, but is willing to take a chance on publishing it! When she broached the idea of this project, she spoke of how poetry can get to the meat of an issue in a clear and powerful way — and that’s what she wanted to achieve in our book. We were more than delighted to give it a go, and wow, did the poems come fast! We had the first draft ready for Carol within three weeks of our initial conversation.
What’s it like writing a book with someone else? How did you go about your work together?
For two people who had never met until the book was finished and we were at a book signing/workshop conference, it was long hours of trust-building — but always a pleasure. We’ve never had one disagreement, and we’ve shared with one another memories and experiences never shared previously. Poems were sent via Microsoft Word back and forth with each of us choosing a topic and then writing about it. Now, we use Google Docs a lot to send poems to each other.
Why was poetry the best fit for this particular story? How does poetry allow writers to communicate in ways prose can’t?
Poetry is so special because you can get your point across in the fewest amount of words which can have a bigger impact because there aren’t pages and pages to go through.
What do you hope readers take away from Can I Touch Your Hair?
That’s it’s okay to ask questions, to be inquisitive and respectful, to make mistakes, learn from them and have a possible connection with someone who you might not have thought you could ever be friends or acquaintances with. We’d also be delighted if this book helps people find the courage to start their own conversations about race.
What have you learned about each other during this collaborative process (that didn’t make it into the book)?
We have an amazing number of quirky things in common! Here’s a sampling:
1. We both grew up as one of five children in our respective families.
2. At one point we’ve both worked at Disney World.
3. As kids we were acolytes in our respective churches.
4. We both were named after a grandparent or great-grandparent.
5. We both think Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most gifted actors ever.
Thank you, Caroline, so much for having us!
Irene & Charles
It’s absolutely my pleasure.
Irene Latham says
Caroline, you are a joy! Thanks again for having us. xo
I love getting to help spread the word!
Margaret Simon says
I had the pleasure of getting this book at NCTE and smiling with Charles and Irene. This is a wonderful book that is important to share with our students. The more conversations we have about race, the better. Maybe we can heal the world.
Very excited to know this wonderful book is now available. Sharing your post!
Thanks for this lovely interview. The book sounds wonderful! Congratulations!!! I’d never met so many different looking people until I came to this country — blondes, redheads, blacks. It was fascinating. And so I must share a poem I wrote about this experience: http://metro.kingcounty.gov/prog/poetry/2007/poem-52.html
I love this, Vijaya! If you don’t mind, I’m going to send your link to Irene and Charles. I think they’ll love it.
Thanks Caroline. And if they don’t mind too many links, please do share The Color of Skin with them as well, a short story published in Odyssey (you have to scroll down to read it) but the illustration at the top says everything: http://cricketmedia.com/blog/compliments-are-free
Charles Waters says
Thanks for hosting myself and Irene on your blog, Caroline!
Vijyaya, the poem you shared was lovely. 🙂