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Artist Journey: Ebony Glenn

last updated 08 February 2019


Ebony Glenn joined Bright in 2016, and since then, her star has risen to incredible heights. Most notably, her illustrations appeared in Mommy’s Khimar, which published in April 2018 with Simon & Schuster, and in nonfiction picture book Brave Ballerina, which just published last month in January 2019 with Henry Holt. She recently completed an artist’s residency at AIR Serenbe, which gave her the time and space to focus on artwork for another upcoming book. We talked to Ebony about the exciting year that she has had and what she has coming up next.


It’s been an exciting year for you-Mommy’s Khimar made several best of 2018 lists-School Library Journal, NPR, and Kirkus, to name a few. What was it like for you to see the book become so widely known?

It’s amazing! I still find it hard to believe that Mommy’s Khimar received such favorable reviews from so many great organizations! But what brings me the most joy is knowing little Muslim girls of color can see themselves represented in this picture book.


Ebony reading Mommy’s Khimar to a receptive crowd at the Decatur Book Festival.

title Artwork from Mommy’s Khimar.

Brave Ballerina, which publishes in January, tells the story of Janet Collins, who broke barriers by dancing as an African-American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House in the 1940s and ’50s. Were you familiar with Collins before starting the project? Can you tell us a bit about the process of capturing this iconic figure, including the research that was involved?

I wish I had known about Janet before working on Brave Ballerina, but I was first introduced to her when my agent sent me the book manuscript. She’s such an incredibly inspirational and talented woman; I feel so honored to have the opportunity to illustrate her story.


Artwork from Brave Ballerina.

To capture her grace, elegance, and likeness, I scoured the internet and read plenty of books about her life. Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins, written by Yaël Tamar Lewin, was instrumental in helping me understand her personal history and drive to dance. If it weren’t for that book, it might have been harder for me to create illustrations that authentically represent her essence and character.


Left: the cover of Brave Ballerina. Right: Janet Collins.

“When we first started this adventure, a lot of the work on Ebony’s website spoke to her animation background–bright colors, slightly exaggerated features. So I was quite surprised when I received the early sketches and color samples. And by “surprised,” I mean my mind was blown. Ebony delivered a looser yet more realistic style that brilliantly captured Janet’s likeness, elegance, and movement (which is really hard to do in a static image!). I was so impressed by Ebony’s ability to adjust her style to suit the subject matter.”

-Christian Trimmer, editor of Brave Ballerina.

You recently were the recipient of a Wonders of Childhood Focus Fellowship at the AIR Serenbe artist residency. Can you tell us about what you were working on while there? What was your experience like at Serenbe?

AIR Serenbe’s art residency was a truly one-of-a-kind experience. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to attend a residency let alone be given a chance to live in a cabin for one month to illustrate (I thought residencies were only exclusive to fine artists and writers!)

While I was there, I worked on two picture books: Inventor Garrett Morgan, a biography of a talented and innovative African American man who invented the gas task (written by Joan DiCicco, Lee & Low Books), and I also worked on The Red Shoes, a sweet story about a pair of red shoes that are worn by two little girls who live in different countries (written by Karen English, Scholastic.)

The city of Serenbe is a very progressive community with so much appreciation for the arts. I very much look forward to visiting again!

What role do you think children’s books play in raising awareness of historical figures like Collins and Garrett Morgan?

Sharing stories about the brave and bold people who managed to overcome the limitations placed on them by society is so immensely important for the education and well-being of all children. By providing a window into the past, helping young readers build empathy for others, and reminding us of the struggles our ancestors overcame, children’s books most certainly play an important role in raising awareness of these significant people who’ve made history.

With Garrett Morgan and Janet Collins in particular, both had to endure an era of racism and discrimination due to color of their skin, and their stories remind us how life had once been for African Americans (and unfortunately the remnants still persist to this day.) Their stories also illuminate the endurance, hope, and optimism people of color continue to have in the face of adversity and hate.

I can personally attest that illustrating these books have not only been a source of inspiration, but they’ve also given me a sense of pride for my African-American roots that I’ve never experienced before. If learning about these amazing people can do that for me, I can only imagine what it can do for other people of color.


A preview of Ebony’s illustrations of Garrett Morgan, which she worked on during her residency.

You speak a bit in the video above about your excitement when approached by an agency. What has it been like to work with your agent, Anne Moore Armstrong, since joining Bright?

Becoming an illustrator was a career path I’ve always dreamed of, and Anne was the person who helped make my dreams become a reality. She truly is a wonderful agent who knows the industry, understands my strengths and limitations, and overall has helped me achieve my dream of doing what I love every single day. I couldn’t be more thankful for the day she stumbled upon my work and took the chance to represent me.

“Ebony has grown as an artist in the 3 years we’ve represented her. I love seeing how she approaches a text and researches the characters and context so deeply. She’s professional and conscientious about schedules {which is no small thing!} and is an absolute delight to work with. I am honored to represent her and excited for her future which is certainly bright!”

-Anne Moore Armstrong, Ebony’s agent

Like many artists, you had to persevere despite many obstacles eventually arrive at illustrating full-time. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators facing the challenges of pursuing illustration as a career?

Firstly, I must address that the path I took towards becoming full-time was not easy nor was it for the faint of heart. However, I believe with enough drive, determination, and passion, any person can manifest his or her wildest dreams.

When I was starting out, I met a lot of resistance and discouragement from others about my dream to illustrate children’s books. It’s not easy to fight your own feelings of self-doubt and insecurity when you’re also combatting the harsh opinions of others. But when I began to tune out negative thoughts, surround myself with supportive people, and have faith within myself, the path to follow my dreams became a lot easier to navigate.

And lastly (and possibly the most important piece of advice), keep drawing to strengthen your skills!


Always exciting to spot your own book in your local bookstore!

What exciting projects do you have coming up next? What does 2019 hold?

My current workload is definitely full! At the moment I am working on four picture books: Inventor Garrett Morgan, The Red Shoes, Flying High: The Story of Simone Biles, and Speak Up! My agent has just signed up 2 more picture books for me to illustrate: one is a picture book biography about the Williams sisters, and the other will be on the newly created Kokila list–I’m so honored to be working with them!

In the fall I will take part in an art exhibition at my former university, and I’m going to attend the SCBWI Rocky Mountain’s Letters & Lines Fall Conference as a member of their faculty. I also have one of my upcoming picture books, Not Quite Snow White—a story about a gregarious little black girl who wants to play Snow White in her school’s musical—being released in July 2019.

2019 is definitely going to be an eventful year for me!

To get in touch with Ebony, email her agent, Anne Moore Armstrong here.

Click here to see Ebony’s full portfolio.

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