Feb 09

Author Meets Artist

by Hannah Holt »


Today for our ongoing series on art & friendship, we have children’s writer Carol Rose. Carol is one of my favorite people. Whether monitoring democratic elections in El Salvador or simply offering suggestions on a manuscript, she emanates compassion and courage. You can follow Carol on all her globe trotting adventures at her blog. This is the story of Carol’s friendship with Hawa, a Liberian refugee and artist:

Hawa and I met on the way to O’Hare Airport. Me, clutching the passenger seat with my eyes clamped shut, she struggling to merge into wild Chicago traffic. Hawa could barely drive. But she’d taken a job at World Relief in order to welcome refugees to our country. And to do this, she needed to make it to the terminal.

Hawa, herself, was a refugee from Liberia. As a young girl in the midst of a brutal civil war, she fled her village. Despite strict instructions to take only bare essentials, she smuggled a tray of paints under her clothing. And that is how she became an artist. During her long years away from home, she painted. She painted to forget the gnawing hunger, the men lurking around corners, her hopeless life. She painted mothers with their children, women doing chores, children playing soccer. She had no supplies to speak of, just dirty scraps of discarded cardboard and paper and her smuggled paints.

I was intrigued by her story and knew it would make a compelling chapter book. Children could learn about life in less peaceful countries, about what being a refugee really means, with crowds of people wasting away their years, with fears of attack, of abuse, of hunger.

When I showed Hawa my finished product, she was kind, but firm, saying I had to see Liberia for myself. She pointed out glaring discrepancies. In my story, I portrayed girls sitting under a tree, playing with their dolls. To me this seemed natural and logical. But Hawa knew sitting under a tree would quickly lead to vicious attacks of biting ants. And furthermore, they had no dolls, just corn husks bent and shaped into play figures.

From Hawa, I learned how difficult and important it is to get the story straight, down to the nuances. I’ve gone on to write stories about the Dust Bowl Era, still struggling with authenticity, down to the grit in the milk. Hawa’s gone on to open an authentic Liberian Restaurant, still struggling to sell her paintings.

There’s a portrait of Hawa hanging in my living room. She’s sitting on the ground, holding a paint brush, her body thin and angular. She’s beautiful. Across her face run tiny words, common everyday thoughts that any young girl might have, concerns about her complexion and skinny legs. It always reminds me of how alike we are, even when the circumstances of our lives are so different.

I will continue striving to capture truth in words. True friends, like Hawa, help me find the way.

Find out more about Hawa’s a Liberian restaurant in Knoxville, TN.

Find out more about Hawa’s art.

Follow Carol on her blog.

If you have a story you would like to share about art & friendship, please email me at hannahweight at yahoo dot com.

  1. Josh

    This is a great story!

  2. Hannah Holt

    Carol writes a good story. I like the line, “She painted to forget the gnawing hunger, the men lurking around corners, her hopeless life.” Beautiful work. Thanks so much Carol.

  3. Tina Cho

    A very touching story + beautiful art. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Rena J. Traxel