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For author and actor Monica Clark-Robinson, life is about the power of story. Whether she’s moving people through the written or spoken word, the ability to change people’s lives ignites her passion.
Monica grew up in Little Rock and Ft. Smith, where she met her husband. After fourteen years away, the native Arkansans moved back home and built a yurt in Alexander. Creative living is simply a part of what makes Monica tick. She has been acting since she was a teenager and now regularly participates in plays through The Arkansas Repertory Theater and Murry’s Dinner Playhouse, both in Little Rock. Some of her favorite shows have included roles in Les Miserables, Romeo and Juliet and Mary Poppins. She’s looking forward to her next role as Miss Hannigan in Annie, which will be staged at Murry’s.
Though the theater was her first creative venture, Monica turned to writing as a way to shine a light on undertold stories. “I’m always looking for stories in the margins–stories of history that are being forgotten or misremembered, stories about characters on the sidelines. I don’t want to write about the princess; I want to write about her cook. I want to write stories that give voice to characters and history that we don’t often hear.”
In 2018, her first published book did just that and succeeded spectacularly. Let the Children March is a picture book that focuses on the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. The first week of May 1963, thousands of children, many of them teenagers, but some as young as nine, took to the streets to protest the deep racial divide and discrimination against African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. In the book, a fictionalized girl recounts her participation in the march and how she endured the terror of police dogs, water hoses and finally, jail. Hundreds of children were arrested that week, and Birmingham caught the eye of the entire world. That attention hastened an agreement by city leaders and Martin Luther King, Jr. to end segregation among businesses.
Monica first heard this story told in a children’s sermon. When she looked up the details of the story later, she realized it had been expressed incorrectly, glossing over the harsh treatment the children encountered and the amount of time they spent huddled in jail, without access to their parents. Committed to the truth and to highlighting a moment in history that needed more recognition, she launched into research of the Birmingham children’s march. Let the Children March won a Coretta Scott King award for its illustrations by Frank Morrison.
Monica’s next book, Standing on Her Shoulders, will release from Scholastic in 2021 and feature the stories of strong women, from freedom fighters to mothers and grandmothers. Currently, she’s writing a book for middle schoolers “about a plus-sized teen girl who gets the lead in her school musical.” She’s also working on several non-fiction picture books and a memoir about her family’s return to Arkansas from city life and living in a yurt.
Recently, Monica was honored with the Arkansas Arts Council Individual Artist Grant for fiction novels, allowing her to focus even more on her story-telling. She has also taken on the role of director for the Arkansas region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Through the regional events, including a November conference in Fayetteville, she hopes to encourage other writers to tell their stories.
From actor to author to yurt-dwelling mother, Monica says, “What unites all the things I do is my love of and belief in the power of story. I think the right book, or play, or movie, at the right time, can change a person’s life…Our shared stories can connect us like nothing else–we are wired to be moved by story, to learn from story.”
Fortunately for us, Monica Clark-Robinson will continue to tell those stories. You can visit her website for more information on her work and purchase Let the Children March anywhere books are sold.
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