At Bologna: Rights Sales Open on Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o’s ‘Sulwe’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Translation rights have gone on offer for the first time Monday (April 1) at Bologna Children’s Book Fair for Lupita Nyong’o’s picture book with Vashti Harrison on the discriminatory dangers of colorism.

Lupita Nyong’o. Image: Alexi Lubomirski

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: October 1
The Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o—winner of a supporting actress Academy Award for her work in the 2013 Steve McQueen film 12 Years a Slave—is the author of Sulwe, a picture book set for an October 1 release by Simon & Schuster Books for Young readers, in the States and Canada.

Lupita Nyong’o’s ‘Sulwe’ is illustrated by Vashti Harrison

It’s being offered for the first time for international rights sales this week at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair through CAA’s co-agents ILA.

The illustrator Vashti Harrison, whose Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017) is a bestseller, is the illustrator on the project.

Nyong’o and Harrison’s Sulwe is described as a book about self-esteem and colorism, which is preferential treatment of people of color whose skin is of lighter shades.

According to media messaging, Nyong’o has experienced the harmful effects of colorism and has spoken about how it hurt her self-image as a child.

“In Sulwe, she candidly shares the consequences of growing up in a world that favors lighter skin,” say the actress’ representatives, “offering a healing story that will entertain children from all backgrounds while providing a story that helps them see beauty in themselves and others.”

In promotional copy, we read that the title character Sulwe is a 5-year-old girl in Kenya. “Her name may mean ‘star,’ but her skin is as dark as midnight. Being darker than anyone in her family and class makes her uncomfortable. She’s determined to find a way to lighten her skin, until a reminder from her mother—and an unforgettable adventure in the night sky—shows her where her beauty really lies.”

In a prepared statement, Nyong’o is quoted, saying, “As a child, much like Sulwe, I was teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. It made me feel unbeautiful, unaccepted, and impacted my confidence.

“It’s painful to see that the preference for light skin prevails. My goal in writing Sulwe is to provide young children with a path towards embracing their own beauty, regardless of what society tells them.”

Vashti Harrison

And illustrator Harrison says, “It was truly a very special experience to be a part of bringing Sulwe to life.

“The story has an incredibly moving and powerful message, while at the same time shares a fun and whimsical adventure. I wanted to infuse every page with as much elegance and thoughtfulness as magic and wonder, so readers would want to come back again and again.”

As those who have followed Nyong’o’s career in film know, the Brooklyn-based actress and author’s first feature film was 12 Years a Slave, which brought her not only an Academy but also accolades at the Screen Actors Guild®️ Award, the Critics’ Choice Award, the Independent Spirit Award, and the NAACP Award.

Nyong’o earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed, and her screen work includes Mira Nair’s Queen ofKatwe; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Ryan Coogler’s record-breaking box office hit Black Panther; and most recently in Jordan’s Peele’s critically acclaimed horror film, Us.

As Sarah Kim wrote Sunday at Forbes, Nyong’o has found some resistance to her work as Red in Peele’s Us, a character who suffers a neurological voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. The national association for the roughly 50,000 sufferers of the disability—with which Robert F. Kennedy reportedly contended—has issued a statement of disappointment that a character who deals with spasmodic dysphonia is, in the film, is an evil doppelganger.

Nyong’o has made an apology to anyone offended by what she says she feels is a character she “crafted with love and care.”

For her part, Harrison is a filmmaker, herself, and earned an MFA in film and video from California Institute of the Arts, where she worker her way into animation and illustration classes to learn from Disney and DreamWorks legends. There she rediscovered her love of drawing and painting.

Harrison has followed Little Leaders with Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World , also from Little, Brown, published late last year.

More coverage from Publishing Perspectives related to Bologna International Children’s Book Fair is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.