By Diana Nollen/ SourceMedia
Marc Brown had to learn a life lesson before the “Arthur” author could begin teaching life lessons 35 years ago.
“One night after I had lost my teaching job and I thought it was the end of the world, my son asked for (a bedtime) story. I said ‘I’m so depressed I can’t think of a story.’ He said, ‘Oh come on Dad, maybe it will make you feel better.’ He was right,” Brown, 65, says with a laugh by phone from his 1734 farm home and office on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
A star was born: Arthur Read, a bookish little aardvark whose family and friends tackle real-life dilemmas, from allergies to naughty words.
Why an aardvark, a four-legged African mammal that snacks on ants and termites, far removed from the chickens, pigs and goats Brown raises on his farm?
“Aardvarks are a very underrepresented animal in the world of children’s books,” he says. “It just popped into my head in a fun moment of inspiration.”
Eldest son Tolon heard the first “Arthur” story that life-changing night. Now he’s executive producer for the “Arthur” animated series on PBS.
“He knows the Arthur world intimately,” Brown says, “because the first story was told to him. I’m very fortunate that I have him to oversee the television (show) and work on it.”
From “Arthur’s Nose” in 1976, Brown, a Cleveland Art Institute alum, has written and illustrated more than 100 aardvark adventures. In 1996, the books made the leap to television, and from there, related projects have taken root.
“PBS has ordered two more seasons, which puts us in a very special place,” Brown says. “‘Arthur’ has now become the longest-running animated series for children in history,” with more than 200 shows featuring two stories per episode.
Brown will bring his Arthur world to Marion’s Linn-Mar High School Auditorium on Thursday (5/3/12), for two daytime workshops with area second-graders and one 7 p.m. program and book signing open to the public. Admission is free, but seating is on a first-come basis for this signature event, part of Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Author Series.
“I’ll discuss my work, my process, where my ideas come from, where my characters come from and I’ll show the people where I come from, where I live,” he says. “I’ll introduce them to my new books, and I’ll have a couple of surprises.”
He spent the past year touring the country to celebrate Arthur’s 35th birthday. The man who once taught illustration, drawing and design at a 100-year-old college in Boston for women of privilege, thoroughly enjoys getting back into the classroom with young readers.
“They let me know what they like, what they don’t like,” he says. “Kids are very honest — that’s what I love about them most. They let me know what they’re interested in, they tell me what they want to read about. Many times an idea will happen at a school.”
He spends about six months nurturing each book from idea to publication, with words and hand-painted illustrations in between.
“I have ideas that have been sitting in drawers for 20 years that have never been in a book,” he says. “Each book is totally unique. They’re like a child — they develop and form in different ways and time frames.”
With Arthur’s legacy and future secure, he’s turning back to his first job — illustrating other author’s books. He illustrated children’s reading and math textbooks before Arthur evolved. One of his latest projects is Eric Pinder’s “If All the Animals Came Inside.”
“I’m able to circle back to where I left off 35 years ago,” he says. “It’s exciting to me to experiment with art.”
And when he’s not doing that or hitting the road for a book tour, he’s tending his berry bushes and fruit trees, then churning out delectable pies.
“I love nature,” he says. “I’ve just been enjoying being back here on this farm.”
What: Marc Brown author talk, part of Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Author Series
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 3, 2012
Where: Linn-Mar High School Auditorium, 3111 N. 10th St., Marion
Admission: Free; general admission seating, no tickets required
Author website: Marcbrownstudios.com
Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Author Series has been bringing celebrated authors to the Cedar Rapids area since 2008.
This year’s installment is funded by a $35,000 Giacoletto Foundation grant, of which $11,000 will cover Marc Brown’s three appearances Thursday (5/3/12), says series coordinator Rob Cline, 40, of Cedar Rapids.
“That’s the highest fee we’ve ever paid, but if the evening performance (fills the house), we’ll reach nearly 2,500 people — the size of Hancher — over the course of the day,” says Cline, whose day job is director of marketing and communications for the University of Iowa’s Hancher arts programming.
The Giacoletto Foundation was established in 2007 to honor the memories of brothers John and Lawrence Giacoletto. Born in Clinton, Ind., John worked at Rockwell in Cedar Rapids and Lawrence was an engineering professor at Michigan State University.
The author series began in 2008 because the foundation reached out to the Cedar Rapids Public Library, per John Giacoletto’s instructions, Cline says.
“That’s an unusual way to encounter a funder.” But a fortunate one, he says, as the annual Giacoletto grants have allowed for the development and expansion of the series that has brought locally and nationally prominent authors to the metro area over the past five years. The foundation also has agreed to finance the 2013 series, Cline notes.
“It’s been very popular,” he says of the series. “It’s been good for the library and good for the public. We’ve been able to use that budget in creative ways to grow the series” from four authors in 2008 to eight in 2012.
Among the past presenters are Sara Paretsky, creator of the V.I. Warshawski detective series; “Sookie Stackhouse” author Charlaine Harris; UI Writers’ Workshop graduate Allan Gurganus, who wrote the best-selling “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”; “Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter” author Laurell K. Hamilton; and Meg Cabot, whose “Avalon High” and “The Princess Diaries” have become Disney movies.
This year’s features authors create everything from comic books to science fiction, non-fiction and novels.
These remaining 2012 free programs will be held at The Hotel at Kirkwood in Cedar Rapids: Nicolette Hahn Niman, Linn Area Reads selection “Righteous Porkchop,” 7 p.m. May 11; A. David Lewis, “Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels,” 7 p.m. June 8; Wendy Delsol, teen paranormal novelist, “Frost,” 7 p.m. June 21; James Rollins, thriller “Bloodline,” 1 p.m. July 1; and Sam Kean, science fiction writer, 7 p.m. July 13.
For details, go to Metrolibrarynetwork.org