Where do ideas come from? It’s not always easy to say. Take Welcome Precious. One day, someone—I don’t remember who—said “You should write a baby book.” I snickered. I had exactly zero interest in writing another baby book. Years earlier, I’d done one for Essence Magazine. That one was a work-for-hire, but still. Surely one baby book was enough, right?
Ideas are stubborn things. Like seeds, once planted, they tend to grow and take root. In no time, I found myself thinking about nursery rhymes, and lullabies, and goodnight books. Soon thereafter, I was asking myself, “Well, if I were to write a new baby book, what would my focus be?” I mulled that one over (for days? for weeks?), then hit upon an idea that held some appeal: I could write a text welcoming a newborn into the world of sensory delights.
Once that was decided, I needed a name for my book’s baby, and Precious sprung to mind. After all, every newborn that comes into the world, without respect of race, culture, or gender, is precious. That idea was important to me because I was not crafting a book specifically for black babies, although obviously women of color would find it especially appealing. Rather, this was intended as a book celebrating the sensory experiences of all babies. Of course, if you’re going to feature a black baby in a book, who better to bring on board than artist Bryan Collier?
I was so excited when Bryan agreed to be the illustrator. As it happened, right about the time he signed the contract, he had just learned that he and his lovely wife, Christine, were about to have their first child. Soon, Bryan would have his very own personal frame of reference to guide him as he worked on the paintings for Welcome Precious!
Timing, as they say, is everything.
In most of my story told through poetry, I write a series of individual poems, woven together by plot or theme. In this case, however, I wanted to create the feeling of, well, not a lullaby exactly, but something of a lyrical text. A book-length poem seemed to be the way to go this time around. As I wrote the piece, I imagined myself holding a newborn, and reading this book to him or her, enjoying the taste and feel of the words in my mouth. I heard myself singing, rather than saying, each line. With that in mind, the text very nearly wrote itself.
This book has become a popular baby shower gift in my circle, and perhaps in other circles, as well. Have you read it, yet? I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages.
Welcome to the warm circle
of your daddy’s arms,
the slippery kisses
of your giddy grandmother,
and the cool tickle
of Mommy’s nose
rubbing against your
belly button …
Welcome, Precious …