Kadir Nelson: Activism Through Art

Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: The story of America and African Americans

Kadir Nelson’s art is centered in the message that Black stories, history, and lives not only matter, but make up an integral part of the full history and culture of America. His art encapsulates exactly how the nation is feeling in recent weeks with new pieces being featured on the covers of two major publications this week: Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. Check out some behind the scenes footage of how he created the Rolling Stone cover here.

Beyond galleries, albums, and magazine covers, Nelson’s art has been lauded in the children’s book world for years. His book Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans is the winner of numerous awards, including the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award. For nearly two decades, Nelson’s art has portrayed the stories too infrequently taught in classrooms. In his author’s letter for Heart and Soul, he writes, “…as a full-time artist and author, for almost a decade I’ve found myself primarily writing about and illustrating historical subjects… Painting historical American subjects pushes me to learn more about who I am, where I come from, and the role my ancestors played in helping form our country.”

Told through the unique point of view and intimate voice of a one-hundred-year-old African-American woman narrator, Heart and Soul demonstrates that in gaining their freedom and equal rights, African Americans helped our country achieve its promise of liberty and justice — the true heart and soul of our nation. In the author’s letter Nelson continues:

“Although our beginnings were not free of blemish, the work of navigating through the marvelous words of the Declaration of Independence and the contradictory inhumane and discriminatory practices of the new country would help define the nation’s character over the span of hundreds of years. It is a story of the country’s continuing challenges of coming-of-age.”

As our country still works through reckoning with the harsh realities and mistakes of our past, Nelson’s art documents a fuller, more inclusive depiction of the story of America.

Read his author’s letter from Heart and Soul below.

Buy Heart and Soul here!

Nelson also won the 2020 Caldecott Medal for The Undefeated published by Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Be sure to tune in on Sunday, June 28th to hear his acceptance speech!

Learn more about Kadir Nelson at https://www.kadirnelson.com/