Q&A with Author David Small

Posted by Sara Volmering on

The world can't possibly be small with creators like David Small and Sarah Stewart. Together, they've created stories and characters that have charmed readers of all ages for decades. Now their work resides in the Western Michigan University Libraries' David Small and Sarah Stewart Archive.

We chatted with David about his creative process before his talk on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the Fetzer Center. David was joined by his wife, Sarah Stewart, and archivist and rare book dealer Gerald W. Cloud for a special evening about David and Sarah's lives, work and archive.

The title of the exhibition series is "It's a David Small World," and features a variety of your work from graphic novels to children's books to restaurant menu illustrations. What inspires your art and writing?

Inspiration is something not easily pinned down. It could be something I find absurd. It could be something that makes me angry or something a little mysterious. In one case, I woke up one morning with a single word in my head and based an entire book on it. I think the important thing is to keep yourself open to whatever flies into your skull and, if it excites you, try doing something with it.

What do you think makes a good story?

A good story can be defined many ways: by its voice, by its development, the way it ends, and so on. But one thing a story should never do is teach a lesson. Readers --especially child readers--loathe lessons and can smell one coming from a mile off. The fact is, every good story already has a lesson in it somewhere. It's why we tell stories to begin with. But what counts is a good rollicking tale with a wonderful beginning, middle and end, and some fascinating characters. Get all those things together, forget about whatever sanctimonious intention you had to teach something, and you may have made a good story on your hands.

How does real-life influence your work?

As for real-life, that's a tough one. I'm not sure I really know much about real life. Stitches and Home After Dark, my graphic books, are the closest thing I've come to depicting life as I experienced it at the time when my life was so intense. Because I found a life in art at an early age, my ride has been a relatively smooth and contented one for a long time. Maybe the darkness in those works explains my retreat to the world of Kid Lit. Although that said, there are hints of darkness in absolutely everything I've ever done. I'm not your Pat the Bunny kind of writer or illustrator!

How has your collaboration with Sarah made an impact on your journey as an artist?

Sarah's books –each one of them—have forced me in directions I never would have taken on my own.  They were literally labors of love. I had real difficulty finding ways to illustrate each one of her books. It was like walking the plank. But when I did, each one became an experience more fulfilling than most of the other 50-odd books I've done

What are you looking forward to during your conversation with Gerald Cloud on Oct. 20?

I'm very curious to hear what he'll say. Gerald and I have since become good friends, so perhaps I've heard all of it already, but I'm very curious to listen to it stated in terms of his broader occupation. This guy has had an amazing career as a librarian, as an archivist and as a dealer in rare French books and manuscripts. A look at the offerings on his website shows the range of his knowledge and interests. It was Gerald who convinced Sarah that her travel diaries and garden journals were an essential part of this archive, and a visit to the remarkable exhibit at the Richmond Center shows this is exactly the case.