For families, 'In Praise' in words and pictures Book: Warm memories of African-American lives and times lead couple to publish 'treasury' of reflections for all ages.

March 01, 1997|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

When Wade and Cheryl Hudson sought writers and artists to celebrate the black family, they did not have to look far beyond their circle, and they did not have to ask twice.

"Almost everybody said it's about time," says Cheryl Hudson. "Basically we said we wanted to do a treasury, something for the whole family, something that children could read with their parents."

The Hudsons, founders of the Just Us Books publishing company in East Orange, N.J., have written and published several children's books, among them "Bright Eyes, Brown Skin" and "Jamal's Busy Day."

They will discuss their latest book, "In Praise of Our Fathers and Mothers," this weekend at two Baltimore libraries, including the Central Library downtown.

"In Praise of Our Fathers and Mothers" began about 2 1/2 years ago as a bit of dinner conversation, black professionals reminiscing about growing up and contrasting their memories against news reports about the crises in black family life.

In the end, the Hudsons received 49 contributions: poems, paintings, illustrations, interviews, even a sculpture. Their lineup included Faith Ringgold, renowned for her story quilts; Joyce Carol Thomas, who won the National Book Award for "Marked By Fire;" poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks; and illustrator Tom Feelings, whose 1995 book, "The Middle Passage," presented a chilling story of slavery.

"It was an opportunity for them to be in a collection with other artists that they admire," says Cheryl Hudson. "There's nothing that came to us that we didn't use."

Gathered together, the works show that like all families, the black family's strength is found in its people, its parents and children, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents. And there is the church, as great an influence as any in black America.

There are tales of elders passing on stories, of children growing up with dreams intact. Walter Dean Myers remembers his parents as "bridges from the harder time they knew to the better time they did not know. They were willing to take me to the shores they weren't able to manage themselves "

Not all the stories reflect well on the families. Haki R. Madhubuti's sad tale of growing up in Detroit in the 1940s and 1950s offers a painful, unflinching example of how drugs, alcohol, abandonment and abuse make for a lethal combination. His mother, described as a woman whose beauty would "compel men to literally get out of their cars to introduce themselves to her," died of a drug overdose when he was 16. Madhubuti's story is not so much about gaining strength from his family as it is about how books and ideas saved his life.

"Sugar," by Joyce Carol Thomas, is a tender, delicate poem, a child's memory of a mother's kiss. In "Rock of Ages," Tonya Bolden pays tribute to the black church. For her, the church is a woman who "plays Bach, and the tambourine." She is a mother with "arms ever-always open." Her poem is illustrated by Roland Freeman's powerful black-and-white photograph of a Philadelphia family on their knees in fervent prayer.

"In Praise of Our Fathers and Mothers" tells of ordinary things, and of families getting through life. "Family need not be perfect to be successful in nurturing children to adulthood," says Wade Hudson, 50. "Most parents do the routine and normal things every day. They work and they try to provide their children with the little extras in life."

The Hudsons, who have a daughter in college and a son in high school, founded Just Us Books nine years ago. They wanted to tell their own stories and provide an outlet for other writers and artists.

"We were tired of seeing in the same old stories that there's just one black child who does good and he stands out from the rest. That is really not a part of our heritage," says Cheryl Hudson, 48, who worked as an art editor for Houghton Mifflin and as a design manager for Macmillan before forming Just Us. "There are very few whimsical or funny stories about a kid who gets into trouble, but just happens to be black."

In a sense, the Hudsons are trying to expand the perception of the black family.

"True, there are so many problems that the black family is involved with, but we feel from our experience that the black family is also strong," says Wade Hudson, a playwright and former public relations specialist for Kean College in New Jersey. "We are telling our story about the positive influence that our family has had in our lives."

The Hudsons will give a lecture called at 1 p.m. today at the Edmondson Avenue branch of the Pratt Free Library, 4330 Edmondson Ave. It is designed to introduce children to the world of publishing.

Tomorrow, the Hudsons will give a slide show at 2 p.m. at the Central Library, 400 Cathedral St. There also will be a reception and tour of artwork from the book now on display on the library's second floor.

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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