Local artist aspires to be Black Dr. Suess
- 27 October 2022
- Posted By Ellen Muse-Lindeman
Local artist Ke’Monte Figgs aspires to become the Black Dr. Suess of Cincinnati.
His new book, Dreams, Art and Success, is a guide to young people to follow their dreams.
He will release the book at an event at Kennedy Heights Arts Center on Saturday, October 29 at 11:00 am. Ke’Monte will read and share his inspiration for Dreams, Art and Success. Books will be available for purchase, signed by the author. There will also be free seasonal goodies and fun activities for children of all ages to enjoy.
A 2022 Kennedy Heights Arts Center Vibrancy Fellow, Ke’Monte Figgs is a self-taught, Cincinnati-based artist. From the hand painted illustrations, to the poetic writing on each page, he created every aspect of the book. With support from Kennedy Heights Arts Center and Black Art Speaks, he self-published the book in September, 2022.
Our DAAP intern Sarah Walker sat down with Ke’Monte recently to interview him about the project.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
“That’s actually kind of a tragic situation. This is Everett Howard (motions to painting) one of my best friends from high school who passed away. He was tased by UC police and he had a heart murmur and his heart exploded. There was something about that day and his death that sent my life in to a spiral. I started having all kind of epiphanies and my mind was changing. It was fresh after high school, really early, and it was just kind of like, man, any one of us could die at any moment. I started hearing spirits in my head, that’s what it felt like, a spiritual moment. It was telling me to write a book. I still haven’t written that book I’m supposed to write. That’s my mission. Out of one of these children’s books – I plan on writing 19-20 books – but one of these children’s books is why I am sitting here to even be here on the earth in the first place. It’s my mission- I don’t know which [book] it is, but it’s going to impact the world in a way that God will want the world to be impacted, so that’s my purpose. It is to create something for Him that would affect everybody in a positive way.”
Tell me about your process for writing your book Art, Dreams and Success.
“My process for writing is, really it’s like having fun and just being like a child. Being creative, using your imagination, and just thinking of all the ‘what-ifs’ and the possibilities. I put myself into the [mindset] of even though I’ve never done it before, even though I never went to college for it, I know what a good book is because I’ve seen good books so I can recreate a good book based off the idea of what I’ve experienced and learned from in the past. I am like the blood, sweat and tears type of guy, I want to pour everything into it. My heart is an open bottle and I just pour it out. I wanted to put everything into it from drawing to sketching it on the canvas and painting to writing it, being the author. I just wanted to pour me out.
“I also wanted to make it look simple, like any kid can pick up a pencil and do it. I want to inspire children. I want people to be inspired to chase their dreams. I know everyone wants to be successful, not one person in their right mind wakes up and says, “I want to be a failure today.” Everyone wants to be successful, even if they sometimes make the wrong choice. So I just know we all are inspired by dreams, art, and success and it inspired me to make a simple guide for kids with self-confidence issues and people who don’t believe in themselves. People are still searching for what’s inside of them so they can stand out into the world and create something that would fulfill their purpose. It’s all about fulfillment, so I was like okay, let me just start with the basics. Be the best you, by being yourself. In that way people hear that and build up their self-esteem and I just let you know, this is how you accomplish your dreams. Be creative, using your art. Then, you will be successful.”
What did you learn while writing this book? What surprised you the most?
“I learned a lot about myself through the process of writing this book. It was just me showing myself, first of all, that I can accomplish my dreams. It’s possible. I learned that I was capable of accomplishing my dreams in my art and using my art to become successful. It’s been all about showing myself what I can do by believing in myself and taking a first step. I learned a lot about myself from my past too. I realized when I was a kid I didn’t give it my best effort. I slacked a lot. I was told I was a genius by a psychiatrist named Dr. Bender. He had this cross-eyed dog, a little bulldog that would sit in the corner and look at me while he asked me questions. [Dr. Brenner] told my mom, “Your son is a genius, you should take consideration in what you do with his future.” My mom was always busy, a single parent, and I didn’t have anybody to stay on my tail, and I needed someone to stay on me. There wasn’t anybody really and my mom had to do what she had to do. So I was at home just doing whatever I wanted to. I needed that guidance, that mentorship, somebody to show me what I can do with my talent at a young age so that I can be inspired to do what I am doing now. I want to be that person for other young artists, and that’s kind of what I learned from myself. I learned that I like to teach too, but I can only teach if you like to do art.”
Why did you choose the title you did?
“We all are inspired by our dreams. Dreams are the spark of the future. Without the dreams and the creativity of the artists, the world, the future wouldn’t even exist. We are here because of creativity and art. It’s very important to follow your dreams. I want to show people that you can do that. There are so many different dreams, different routes you can take, that’s why my character one minute is a boxer, the next minute he’s a skateboarder, the next minute he’s a gardener, next he’s a mountain climber, then he’s an astronaut, then he’s a skydiver, then he’s a pirate. Then a school teacher and a superhero. There are so many different dreams that people can capitalize on and find their repurpose and fulfillment in life.”
Was your character inspired by anyone?
“I remember that my brother, he was four years older than me, I think it was his first year of high school and he brought back a drawing a friend had done for me and it was a short version of my brother. My brother was always short so they drew a shorter version of my brother and it was hilarious. When I was a kid I took it and I drew it, copied it, made my own cartoons, comic books and stuff like that. It was so good, I had my family members in it, my cousins, all of us.
Another thing that inspired me [to create the character Mr. Craven] is because it can kind of bring a positive light on the history of the last name Craven. In my family it has a dark turn for what my grandpa and his reputation in the streets and the influence the way he had over our lives. I’m not saying he was a bad person, I’m not going to talk down or anything because I never really met him. There’s people in my family who have criminal records that are really good people. The last name is like a warranty. I wanted to flip that last name into something positive by starting a legacy behind it.”
If your character was real, where would be be now?
“My character would be in city hall of Cincinnati or probably the President of the United States of America. Mr. Craven for President! He would be telling the country it’s the American Dream. We’re going to fix this nonsense going on, we’re going to bring the basketball courts back in the neighborhoods and bring more innovative things back to the cities of America.”
What is the future for this book? Are you writing another book?
“The future for this book is I have a book launch at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center on the 29th of October and then I also am planning one with the public library. I want the books in schools. I just want to be able to just hand it out in the community. That’s the possible dream, here everyone take one, this is homework read it, build your self-esteem, believe in yourself, chase your dreams, get through school. I want to take my character, to make mathematical books, education books, reading writing, coloring books, puzzles, anything to challenge your mind and help you develop yourself. I want to help kids in Cincinnati Public Schools in my own special way.”
“Be on the lookout for more books. I feel heavily inspired by being as good of a children’s book writer and illustrator as Dr. Suess. I want to continue to do this and I want to place a book in everybody’s home. I believe that this book right here, I created this book with the love and passion in my heart, and it manifested in this thing and I want to pass this energy to other people. It’ll bring good vibes and a helpful spirit into their house.”
Photo by Shawndale Thomas