On Thursday, Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m., New York Times bestselling author Andrea Pinkney will deliver a lecture sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Faculty, the Africana Studies Program and the Education Department. Titled “Mirrors, Windows, Doors–and More!” the lecture will seek to shed light on the process by which books for young people are written and illustrated. Pinkney’s work and her lecture focus closely on diversity, representation and inclusion within children’s literature. The announcement from the Office of Communications reads, “[The talk] will provide an inside look at…how those who work with, or serve, children can help young people embrace the joy and power of reading.”
An acclaimed author of over 30 books for children and young adults spanning a wide array of genres, Pinkney has devoted her career to centering the lives and voices of people of color within literary spaces that are prone to excluding them. Her recent works, including the nonfiction “Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound” and the novel “The Red Pencil,” which takes place in the South Darfur region of Sudan, are but a few in her extensive bibliography, which includes picture books, novels, historical fiction and narrative nonfiction. Over the course of her celebrated career, Pinkney has committed herself to improving the quality and increasing the breadth of literature available to Black children of all ages.
The lecture will be held in the Villard Room as the 10th installment of the Vassar Education Department’s Bechtel Lectureship, which was named after Vassar alumna Louise Bechtel (Class of 1915), a pioneer in the field of children’s literature and the first children’s book editor at the publishing company Macmillan. In a joint email, Athena Wyatt ’17, Associate Professor of Anthropology Candice Lowe Swift, Associate Professor of Education Colette Cann, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life and Director of Transitions Luis Inoa and Assistant Dean for Campus Life Sam Speers explained, “[T]he Bechtel Lectureship was established, to promote continued conversation and innovation in the field of children’s literature.”
They explained why Pinkney was invited to campus, saying, “Pinkney has worked tirelessly to create and promote children’s books about people of color by people of color, establishing their place in the realm of popular, high-quality children’s literature and ensuring those books continue to make it from their initial, imagined stages to finished products for the youth reading community.”
The lecture will also be the first of several in the newly crafted “Centering the Lives of Black Women” lecture series. “Vassar College, as one of the seven sisters, has a long history of being at the forefront of controversial and critical conversations about issues that confront women’s lives. In line with that history, this lecture series will contribute to this important tradition by expanding and extending the historical and contemporary discourses on women and intersectionality that have become so vibrant on Vassar’s campus and beyond,” the hosting faculty and staff clarified.
The significance of Pinkney’s lecture, however, goes beyond the continuation of an esteemed and long-standing scholarly tradition. The organizing committee was quick to underscore the urgency of promoting critical discussion about topics related to race and gender given the current social and political climate. “This series centers the lives of Black women at the very moment when the U.S. has turned its attention to the particular experiences of expression, oppression, and liberation of Black lives,” the press release emphasized (Office of Communications, 10.14.16).