Meet Gary Golio, the author of Everywhere Beauty is Harlem: The Vision of Photographer Roy DeCarava, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Gary Golio is a visual artist, musician, a psychotherapist, and the New York Times-bestselling and award-winning author of various picture books, including Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow, which received the 2011 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.
Here, Golio provides a behind-the-scenes look at his latest book, Everywhere Beauty is Harlem, a deeply researched picture book that shines a spotlight on Roy DeCarava, an unsung Black artist.
In a word – heart. The first time I saw Roy DeCarava’s photos together–in a 2018 show
at the Brooklyn Museum called Soul of a Nation–I felt the love that he clearly had for
everyone and everything that caught his eye. I’m big on feeling and sentiment in art, and
what Roy did in photographing the people and places of Harlem was to capture and
convey what he and his subjects were feeling at any moment. He was showing us
the soul of a people, their humanity and dignity, using nothing but his eyes and a
camera lens. He finds the extraordinary in the everyday, and creates a bridge between
what we’re seeing and who we are, ourselves, as human beings.
A photograph of a 10-year-old Gary Golio, taken with his first camera
I believe in keeping things simple when it comes to making art. A pencil, some pigments
and brushes, a musical instrument, a dancer’s body, a handful of words: the less there
is, the more you draw upon yourself and your imagination. You don’t need fancy or
expensive tools to create art and express your experience as a human being. We all
have something to say, and Roy’s message in his work is that inspiration is all around
us, in a discarded soda can, the eyes of a stranger, the dusky darkness of a jazz club,
and in the light falling on a city sidewalk. He sees beauty everywhere, and he’s asking
us to do the same. I think kids, especially, will understand that on a deep level, and I
hope that’s what anyone will get from reading the book.
I like to dig and dive deep. I can spend months, and sometimes years, working on the
text for a nonfiction picture book. My work is about real people, the substance of their
lives, and I want to know all about them–what they thought, what made them happy or
sad, why they cared about other people or something they did, and how they developed
themselves. The books are all about how someone grows as a human being, so I look
at books, recordings, photographs, whatever I can find to shine a light on the person I’m
studying. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I first went to college, and now I spend
my time–as an author and researcher–looking for treasure of all kinds. I want to be
surprised by what I find, and there were things I learned about Roy–his joy at being
a chalk artist on the streets of Harlem at 5 years old, his desire to be a painter like
Vincent van Gogh, his use of only natural light in taking pictures–that got me excited
about the man and helped me understand him better. In the end, understanding one
human being can help you to know yourself, if you see and make the connections.
I have three books upcoming: about the remarkable nursing experience of Walt
Whitman in the Civil War; the heroism and sacrifice of the first Black soldier to win the
Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in battle; and a day in the life of musician-
composer-creator John Cage. After that, anything is possible.
A child of the Harlem Renaissance and an artistic collaborator of Langston Hughes, Roy DeCarava is an unsung hero of Black history. Convinced that the lives of ordinary Black people deserved to be immortalized and documented in photos, Roy celebrated Black people through his art, a process that the incomparable author Gary Golio and illustrator E. B. Lewis capture in this beautiful picture book.