Who is Ekuwah Mends Moses, the author?
I am a Black woman who was raised in a bicultural family. My creative work is rooted in preserving and sharing my family’s culture, history, migration, and legacy. As a Ghanaian-American, I didn’t see myself or my family in the stories I read or positively portrayed in the media. Now, with Mama’s artwork, family photographs, and Ghanaian artifacts, I design books from my experiences. I write because representation matters and Black storytellers are not a monolith. I want children and teens to be able to see themselves and know that they matter. I feel it is also important for me to educate readers, of all ages, about valuing the differences and similarities of others.
Why did you write Mama’s Portraits and Me: The Legacy, Life, and Love of Artist Carolyn Coffield Mends?
Carolyn Coffield Mends, my extraordinary mother, joined the ancestors on July 13, 2017. The picture of me crawling on the floor as Mama worked inspired me as I went through Mama’s old photo albums to design the pages of my first book - My Name is an Address. This photobombed photo is the title of the book - Mama’s Portraits and Me. I wanted to go deeper into my mother’s family history and the dynamics of our relationship than I did in my first nonfiction picture book.
Mama never had the opportunity to share her work with the world on the scale we can now. She believed that dreams could be fulfilled through children, and I am on a quest to inspire children and readers of all ages. I write to help me cope with grief and sadness, and sharing her story may help someone else who is feeling overwhelmed or alone.
Who is the intended audience?
Picture books are a storytelling format and they are not only for children. This longer picture book is meant for anyone who loves someone with a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis or is battling Breast Cancer. It is perfect for anyone who has lost a family member due to death or separation. Families are unique, and I hope this book will be an authentic example of Black excellence and legacy.
Mama’s Portraits and Me is written at a level that will appeal to students in upper elementary school or middle school. Readers ages 8 and above can fully appreciate the fine art included in the book. It is ideal for arts integration into the general education and art classroom. It is also excellent for those looking for books to address social-emotional learning (SEL).
What was the hardest part of writing a book?
As I say in the book, I loved my mother with my full heart, although it did not always show to my family and friends. Several family members approached me after the release of my first book. They were shocked that I would be the one to amplify my mother’s work for a new generation. As a result, I knew that I needed to be more vulnerable and explain my purpose for writing. There are many adults who do not understand that a child’s behavior is communication. I have never tried to publicly explain what it is like to grow up with a parent with a chronic illness. Ultimately, the hardest part was balancing my complex feelings while amplifying her extraordinary work in the best light.
How does your family feel about your book?
I am thankful for my family's support! I have aunties, uncles, cousins, and extended family cheering for me from around the world. My success is their success. I did not get to this point alone. This book is so much richer due to my family’s contributions of artwork, family history, and positive encouragement.
How did you come up with the front and back covers for Mama’s Portraits and Me? Did you do them yourself or hire someone?
I am proud to say that I designed them myself. The background color is Mama’s Black heritage. She specialized in pastel portraiture, and the broken pastels mirror her authentic unorganized collection of pastels she stored on a metal television tray (you can see beside her throughout the book). Broken pastels still color. Mama’s self-portrait was made with crayons while she was in college. My portrait is from a painting she made for me in 1989. The title’s font is to honor her gifted hands and talent with calligraphy. The layering of all of these things represents the complexity of our mother/daughter relationship.
How did you choose the images to include within the pages of the book?
Picture books are portable art galleries or art museums. First and foremost, I included as many photographs of her pastel portraits as possible for the readers to view her incredible portfolio. Additionally, I included multiple newspaper articles, ribbons, and customer testimonials as evidence to prove she was an award-winning artist in our small Missouri town and the Southwest. I added pictures of our personal family life and birthday gifts to demonstrate her love for family, friends, and community. The scrapbook, purposeful doodles, and clippings are also to honor Mama as our family’s creative historian.
How do you see teachers using this book in their classrooms?
Picture books are springboards to further learning! I have a free learning guide available on my website. It is full of ideas for discussing art as anchor texts, tips for reading or writing biographies, a list of related picture books for pairing, several self-portrait project ideas, links to how-to videos, and more. Mama’s Portraits and Me would add to the range and diversity of a classroom or a school library. It is robust for a book club, art club, or Black Student Union discussion. Social workers and counselors could use the book in 1:1 or small group work. Teachers and classroom volunteers could read it aloud during Black History Month, Women's History Month, Disability Awareness Month, Youth Art Month, and beyond.
What’s next for you?
I plan to keep on reaching, teaching, and writing. I will do the best I can to learn, educate, and change the narrative about Africa and Black families. Mama left us with a vast collection of art and family photographs, and my Dad is a griot who has many stories to share. I have accepted the challenge of finding creative ways to share the stories and lessons I learned from my parents and extended family. Follow me on social media, visit my website for resources, and sign up for my newsletter to grow alongside me!
About the Author
Ekuwah Mends Moses
Ekuwah Mends Moses is a K-5 Engineering Teacher in Las Vegas, NV. She previously worked as a Family Engagement Facilitator, Performance Zone Instructional Coach, K-5 Literacy Specialist, Learning Strategist, and elementary classroom teacher.
Mama’s Portraits and Me: The Legacy, Life, and Love of Artist Carolyn Coffield Mends
Carolyn Coffield Mends was an award-winning artist who specialized in pastel portraiture. Ekuwah grew up watching her remarkable mother’s passion for painting, drawing, and storytelling. She pulls pieces from Carolyn’s studio to paint a biographical picture of love, family, heritage, and humanity. In what ways do Carolyn’s life and artwork inspire you to dream and use your gifts to impact the world?