Seven Questions For . . . Emily Bowen Cohen

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club

Q: What do you do?

I create memoir-style comics. I’m Native-American and Jewish and I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. I write and draw my childhood memories to educate readers about my tribe, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and issues of diversity.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I love how rich in meaning childhood memories can be. Youthful experiences form identity. They also tell us how the world works. Sharing childhood stories can be a bridge to different perspectives. Everyone can relate to an awkward moment in middle school, even if our backgrounds are very different.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

Disclosing personal stories is difficult (for me anyway).  I want to make sure there is a good reason to share.  I feel a lot of pressure to tell the stories well!

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

I am proud to be raising kids who feel free to speak up about what they are passionate about.

Art from Emily's mini-comic, "An American Indian Guide to The Day of Atonement"

Art from Emily's mini-comic, "An American Indian Guide to The Day of Atonement"

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

My mother inspires me. My dad died when I was nine.  From then on, she raised my two sisters and me on her own. I think of her often when I parent my own three children. It’s a tough business to do on your own. About ten years ago, she retired early from the rat race so she could pursue her dream: she travels around the country hiking and doing trail maintenance for the U.S. National Parks. It energizes me to think how she is spending her days!

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

Oprah. I struggled with this for a while because I thought I should choose someone more esoteric.  But you know what?  The answer is always Oprah. She faced many challenges, starting in childhood, and overcame them to become not just successful, but to become a POP ICON. She gives really inspiring advice in an approachable way.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

My Book About ME by Me, Myself, and Dr. Seuss was a childhood favorite. You filled in the book yourself, answering questions. Early on, it got me thinking about identity. Many fill-ins, like, “there are ---- windows in my house,” and “I have ---- teeth” didn’t really explain who you were. But other questions, like where you lived, were more personal. I remember thinking carefully about how to answer some questions. Should I check-off “country?” Should I check-off “suburb?” Country-living was more accurate, but suburban-life seemed far more cosmopolitan. Even as a child, I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed by external cues to who I was.

* * *  

The Picture Book Club will make a donation to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Dakota Access Pipeline Donation Fund, the charity chosen by Emily, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.