In the children's book The Meaning of Pride, Rosiee Thor pens an ode to LGBTQ+ culture and identity by celebrating the beauty, significance and many dimensions of the concept of Prideand showing that the word can mean many different things to people.
Award-winning artist Sam Kirka biracial, queer woman born and raised in Chicagoplayed a crucial part in the book by providing the vibrant illustrations of various icons. She also had a hand in deciding who would be included in The Meaning of Pride.
Recently, Kirk talked with Windy City Times about the book, changes within herselfand, of course, pride.
Windy City Times: This is such a cool book. Even though it's primarily geared toward kids, it would seem that adults could benefit from reading this, too.
Sam Kirk: Yeah, I think it's definitely a book for all ages, as it includes history. Also, I'd say with coming out and exploring identitythe ways we go about doing those things can happen at all ages. I speak from experience. [Laughs]
WCT: I didn't know all of the figures in this book, although I recognized about 95 percent of them. If I'm with an LGBTQ+ media outlet and didn't know all of them, I think most others could learn from the book. And I appreciated there are biographies of those people at the end of the book.
SK: Yeah, I really appreciated that, too. And I'm sure you recognized some Chicago people… [Laughs]
WCT: Like Shea Coulee…
SK: Yes! There are Shea Coulee, Fawzia Mirza, Mercedes [Santos] and Theresa [Volpe]… We surprised [Mercedes and Theresa] and showed them the book. They had no idea they were in the book. They were absolutely shocked! [Laughs] Their youngest son actually took the book to school the next day to share with his classmates and it was read out loud at the library.
WCT: That's really sweet. Tell me how the collaboration came about with Rosiee.
SK: Sure. In 2019, the team at [HarperCollins imprint] Versify reached out to find out if I was even interested in illustrating a children's book. Until this point, I had illustrated covers and done some things for magazines, but I had never done a cover-to-cover piece. And I usually shy away from that because the idea of drawing the same character over and over never really [appealed] to me. But since this involved so many different figures and characters and because the focus was on Pride, I said, "Yes, absolutely."
I think even if it was the same character, I would've been interested just because of the opportunity to create a children's book. I came out in the late '90s as a teenager. I wonder how much my life would change if I had a book like this back then. It's really meaningful to do this.
WCT: Was there a figure that was harder to draw than the others?
SK: It's always harder to draw actual people because you have to capture their likenesses. Also, I want to make sure I capture that person's energy because that's what brings it to life. I spent quite a bit of time researching and looking at video clips of the different individuals to see how they expressed themselves.
With the other images, I could play with the body language differently. It's easier to do when it's an interpretation versus an actual person.
WCT: Some of the groupings of people are quite interesting. For example, Frida Kahlo is paired with Laverne Cox. How did that one come about?
SK: The book was definitely a collaboration, and I definitely received suggestions about who they wanted to include. The way that went about is that I asked if I could give feedback about the notes, and they said, "Yes." I went through the script and illustration suggestionsand actually replaced quite a few people and suggested new people.
There are quite a few POC individuals who were not included in the initial notes. That was part of my participation to make sure representation across many cultures was included. I was focused on who was represented in the book and where they showed up.
WCT: There are so many people to choose from to include in this book. For example, in the music section, there could've been Sylvester or George Michael.
SK: So, for the music portion, I actually did change quite a [few of the people]. There were Elton John, Sam Smith and several other folks, but Ricky Martin and Janelle Monae were not originally included. So when I was looking at that portion, I was thinking, "Who else can we include to represent different ethnicities?" I also wanted to make sure different generations were represented.
Also, we had [original Star Wars actor] Billy Dee Williams in the bookbut then took him out because, in my research, I discovered several statements from him denying he was part of the LGBTQ community. [Note: In 2019, Williams told Esquire, "And you see I say 'himself' and 'herself,' because I also see myself as feminine as well as masculine." NBC News noted that he later walked back those comments, telling The Undefeated he "was talking about men getting in touch with the female side of themselves."]
But there were some really wonderful things I'm glad we caught before the book went to print, like Elliot Page transitioning.
WCT: So I have to ask: What does pride mean to you?
SK: Well, pride represents freedom to mefreedom to express exactly who you are and be 100-percent comfortable in your own skin. That's really the goal of my work: to create pieces that help people to feel proud of who they are. Even in my public works and murals, I try to push [boundaries] and reflect ourselves in those pieces. That's probably my biggest challenge as an artist.
WCT: This book is geared toward kids. Of course, there are areas in this country where this book won't be allowed. What's your response to that?
SK: I don't understand how we're going to be more united and see what that will look like if we continue to have this exclusion of people. It's sad because, for a while, it felt like we were progressing and moving forward.
WCT: I've asked a variety of people this question: With the pandemic and the racial awakening, we've all time to self-reflect. What have you learned about yourself these past two years?
SK: Ooohthat's a good question. If you had seen me before the pandemic, my hair was very big and long. I've gone through yet another round of exploring my identityand I didn't realize how much I was using my hair as a way of hiding. This is another new journey, and it feels good. It's such a simple thing but it allows me to be creative. And my wife is always saying, "Wear colors and some patterns." [Laughs] And I think my personal stories will start to show more in my work.