October 11, 2017
by Alvin Irby
After watching a movie, listening to a song, or reading a book, people sometimes ask, “What did you think?” During these moments of brief reflection, I often rely upon a single question to help me determine my overall opinion of a particular piece of art: Did it make me feel something? Flipping through the pages of CROWN: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, I felt a sense of pride. Not the generic pride a black person might feel seeing another black person you don’t know walk across the stage at your cousin’s graduation to be crowned valedictorian. The pride I felt taking in each beautifully crafted word and joyfully vibrant illustration reminded me of the feeling I get when I’m wearing a unique piece of clothing or an accessory that is both custom and universal. I’m talking about the shoes or hat that tell a story about me and that feel so me that people can’t help but compliment my style.
Crown captures that feel good energy of black barbershops across America and the love of people coming together in a timeless and sacred space. Unlike the classical paintings in museums that must be viewed from a safe distance, Gordon James, the illustrator, birthed masterful illustrations, deep and rich with color and feeling, that transport children and adults between the barber chair and the gallery of a fancy museum – all at the same time. The emotions captured in each paint stroke highlight the artistry of the illustrator and that of the countless barbers whose clippers and razors create the type of art that makes girls take notice and that inspire self-confidence. It’s easy for children to time travel with this book. The poetic language and authentic voice of Derrick Barnes places in front of the reader a mirror, which reminds children of a time and a place when they felt like the most beautiful and loved person on the planet.
Regardless of whether you’ve ever stepped foot in a black barbershop, the affirming text, rapturous facial expressions, and pride-filled eyes that co-sign each page of this book serve not only as an ode to the fresh cut, but also an invitation to celebrate the beauty that lies within each of us.