George McCalman’s new book, Illustrated Black History, is a dedication to 400 years and 145 figures of the United States’ Black history, personally curated and illustrated by McCalman. He takes a broad—and at times corrective—view of U.S. history throughout the book. “What I wanted to do was represent people from all over the country, not just focus on North, South, West,” he told Alta Live. “I really wanted to make sure that people came from all over the country and they were representing stories of passage and migration and history that showed the breadth of American history, of 400 years.” It was also important to McCalman that his book gave a whole perspective of Black emotion and character—and that his book did not penalize readers who begin with an incomplete view. “In American history, there’s a lot of complexity,” he said. “People tend to see it in binary ways, and I’ve never seen anything in America as binary.”
McCalman’s portraits include subtle details or design choices to reflect the personalities and accomplishments of each pioneer, like oversize features or specific styles. “The art represents my personal perspective, but also I’m speaking to the symbolism of who each person represents,” he explained. “This book is my perspective on how history is rendered.” The result is illustrations and accompanying essays that are personal and specific and avoid a “reverence fest,” as McCalman puts it in his book. “You’re not trotting anyone out; you’re mining them,” writer and close friend Levin said.
Check out these links to some of the topics McCalman and Rachel Levin brought up this week.
- Read Levin’s “My Brilliant Friend,” from the Alta Newsletter.
- Buy McCalman’s Illustrated Black History.
- Read Levin’s writing for Alta and the books she’s authored and coauthored: Steamed, Eat Something, and Look Big.
- Check out Alta’s newest issue, Made in California, including the crafts special section.•