Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship
by Irene Latham (Author), Charles Waters (Author), Sean Qualls (Illustrator), and Selina Alko (Illustrator)

Booktalk: How can Irene and Charles work together on their fifth grade poetry project? They don’t know each other . . . and they’re not sure they want to.


Guest Post by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Irene Latham is a Birmingham poet and novelist who writes heart-touching tales of unexpected adventure. She has also authored two award-winning poetry collections, What Came Before and The Color of Lost Rooms.

Charles Waters is a children’s poet, actor, and author. His poems have appeared in various anthologies including: One Minute Till Bedtime and The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. He lives in New York City.

Q. Describe your writing process.
A. Irene: This book was a collaboration–a first for both of us–so the process instantly pushed us out of our regular habits! As soon as Charles said YES, we immediately got to work writing poems. I think we had the first draft together in about 3 weeks. It was fascinating to learn about each other’s experiences and to share these sometimes painful and difficult memories with each other. I should mention that most of our conversation was through e-mail. We did text some and also have enjoyed a handful of phone conversations over the course of working on this project. We didn’t actually meet until the book was completed and we were invited to speak on a panel at AASL in November 2017. We’ve gotten to know each other in a really special way. My husband and kids refer to Charles as Uncle Charles.

A. Charles: I use pen and paper and then transfer to the laptop. It’s a system I’ve had since I started my writing career and it’s held me in good stead.

Q. Tell us about your latest book.
A. Charles: Our book is about taking chances in unexpected friendships, having tough conversations about race in a kind way, and learning about yourself.

A. Irene: Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (Carolrhoda/Lerner) is about a fifth grade boy and girl who have to work together on a poetry project, and they’re not sure what to write about . . . at first. Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to present paired poems about topics including shoes, sports, music, stereotypes, and much more. Accompanied by artwork from acclaimed illustrators Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, this relatable collection explores different experiences of race, and how we talk about it in twenty-first century America.

Thanks for sharing your new book, Irene and Charles!

And now it’s your turn, dear readers. Are you ready to write your book? All blog subscribers can participate in the 30 Minutes of Creativity group. Just log in to our private Facebook and add an emoji or write a comment to log the time you worked on your book that day. Step by step you will get the words out of your head and onto the page.

Give it a try and see if it works for you!

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