Editor Interview: Louise May on I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Today we welcome Lee & Low editor Louise May to Cynsations to share her insights into poetry anthologies, working with Lee Bennett Hopkins, and I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, edited by Lee (Lee & Low, 2019).

Congratulations on I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage! The book has received excellent reviews. What appeals to you most about poetry anthologies in general, and this book in particular?

I have always liked editing poetry anthologies because of the variety and brevity of the text, and the unique ways poets frame their thoughts. I also love the way a poem gives the illustrator ample opportunity to interpret and enhance the poem with her or his illustrations.

I Remember especially appeals to me because of the breadth of voices represented among the poems in the book. The content of each poem is specific to the poet’s heritage, but the poems as a collection also convey universal human experiences.

Interior spread from I Remember. Poem by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustration by Jeanne Rorex Bridges, used with permission.

This isn’t the first Lee & Low anthology edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. He also edited Amazing Places, illustrated by Christy Hale and Chris Soentpiet (2015) and Amazing Faces, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet (2010). What was it like, working with him?

Lee Bennett Hopkins was the ultimate anthologizer of poetry for young readers. He had the uncanny ability to bring together a diverse group of poets to write around a common theme.

It was always an exciting and informative adventure working with Lee. I know he did a lot of work with the poets before he ever sent the poems to me, but he was always open to my suggestions and queries to further tweak the poems.

And when he became exasperated at me for questioning punctuation or suggesting other “minor” edits, he would always exclaim “It’s poetic license!”

For those of us unfamiliar with the publication process of poetry anthologies, does the compiling editor propose the project with a particular theme? And at that point are all the contributors specifically listed, or does that evolve as the book progresses?

The idea for a poetry anthology can come from an editor, a poet, or an anthologizer.

Among the books Lee and I worked on together, the ideas always came from Lee. He was full of ideas! Once we had an overall theme in place, Lee and I created a wish list of poets he would ask to contribute. Given Lee & Low’s mission of diversity, we worked to include poets from a range of ethnic/racial backgrounds and gender identities.

Interior spread from I Remember, illustration by Michele Wood, poem by Kwame Alexander. Used with permission.

Putting together a poetry anthology sounds like a daunting job, especially when there are fourteen poets, sixteen illustrators and a compiling editor. How did you ensure the finished book had a cohesive feel with so many creators?

I Remember was a big project with many moving parts, but we had a division of tasks that helped things go smoothly. Lee was the contact with the poets; he worked with them to develop their poems around the theme of remembered childhood experiences that reflected their heritages.

Once the poems were ready, the art director and I chose the artists and worked with them to develop their illustrations. As Lee and I did for the poets, the art director and I did for the artists; we developed a wish list of contributors, with each artist paired loosely by heritage to one of the poets.

The rich range of artistic interpretations and styles added another layer of diversity to the entire collection. What kept the collection cohesive was the fact that we never lost sight of what we wanted to represent through the combined work of the poets and artists.

What do you hope young readers will take away from I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage?

I hope young readers will find something in the collection that speaks directly to them, while at the same time discovering the unique experiences of others. They will see how heritage informs who they are now and who they will become, and that their experiences are not always so different from the experiences of others, especially when you look below the surface.

I also hope they will read the short bios at the end of the book, and see that creativity exists among people of all backgrounds. As noted in the Publishers Weekly starred review of I Remember, “there is truly something for everyone in these pages.”

Interior spread from I Remember. Illustration by Simone Shin, poem by Janet Wong.

Cynsational Notes

In Memory: Lee Bennett Hopkins by Stephani Martelli Eaton from Cynsations. Peek: “Lee Bennett Hopkins, celebrated and renowned poet, educator, and anthologist, died Aug. 8 in Cape Coral, Florida. He was 81.”

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is a former Writing Barn Fellow. She’s worked with Cynthia Leitich Smith as a Cynsations intern since 2016 and also serves as assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI. Gayleen is represented by Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary Agency.