Episode 326: Painting, Math, and Tiny Houses: Writing the Picture Book Biography – Interview with Amy Alznauer

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing Amy Alznauer.

Amy lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, a dog and her four puppies, a parakeet, sometimes chicks and a part-time fish, but, as of today, no elephants or peacocks. Check back.

Her writing has won the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction, the Christopher Award, and the SCBWI-Illinois Laura Crawford Memorial Mentorship, and her essays and poetry have appeared in collections and literary journals including The Bellingham Review, Creative Nonfiction and River Teeth.

She has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches calculus and number theory classes at Northwestern University. She is the managing editor for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind. And she is the writer-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great, where she has a little office in a big building with a bad internet connection, where she tries to get work done (in theory).

In this episode Amy and I discuss:

  • How the relationship between the Zhou brothers inspired her book.
  • What Amy had to do to find the perfect illustrator for her book.
  • Why Amy believes it is important to get the blessing from the real-life figures that inspire your writing. 

Plus, her #1 tip for writers.

About the Author

Amy’s writing has won the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction, the Christopher Award, and the SCBWI-Illinois Laura Crawford Memorial Mentorship, and her essays and poetry have appeared in collections and literary journals including The Bellingham Review, Creative Nonfiction and River Teeth. She has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She teaches calculus and number theory classes at Northwestern University. She is the managing editor for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind. And she is the writer-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great.

You can find out more about Amy on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Flying Paintings

Amy Alznauer

First there was one Zhou brother, and then there were two. They lived in a bookstore with their grandmother, Po Po, whose stories of paintings that flew through the air and landed on mountain cliffs inspired them to create their own art. Amid the turbulence of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, the Zhou Brothers began painting together on the same canvas. Today, ShanZuo and DaHuang Zhou are icons in the art world, renowned for working side by side on all their paintings and sculptures.

In this extraordinary biography, author Amy Alznauer joins with the Zhou Brothers to tell the story of their unique and often difficult childhood and their pursuit of a wild, impossible dream. The lyrical writing blends elements of legend, while the brothers’ dramatic illustrations soar with vibrant colors and surreal imagery from ancient Chinese cliff paintings. An inspiration for young artists and dreamers of all kinds, this deeply felt collaboration explores how art can bring people together, as well as set them free.

The epic story of two Chinese brothers who became art-world legends, illustrated with stunning paintings by the artists themselves.

If you decide to check out the book, we hope you’ll do so via this Amazon affiliate link, where if you choose to purchase via the link DIY MFA gets a referral fee at no cost to you. As always, thank you for supporting DIY MFA!

Also by Amy Alznauer

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity

In 1887 in India, a boy named Ramanujan is born with a passion for numbers. He sees numbers in the squares of light pricking his thatched roof and in the beasts dancing on the temple tower. He writes mathematics with his finger in the sand, across the pages of his notebooks, and with chalk on the temple floor. “What is small?” he wonders. “What is big?” Head in the clouds, Ramanujan struggles in school — but his mother knows that her son and his ideas have a purpose. As he grows up, Ramanujan reinvents much of modern mathematics, but where in the world could he find someone to understand what he has conceived? 

Author Amy Alznauer gently introduces young readers to math concepts while Daniel Miyares’s illustrations bring the wonder of Ramanujan’s world to life in the inspiring real-life story of a boy who changed mathematics and science forever. Back matter includes a bibliography and an author’s note recounting more of Ramanujan’s life and accomplishments, as well as the author’s father’s remarkable discovery of Ramanujan’s Lost Notebook.

The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor

When she was young, the writer Flannery O’Connor was captivated by the chickens in her yard. She’d watch their wings flap, their beaks peck, and their eyes glint. At age six, her life was forever changed when she and a chicken she had been training to walk forwards and backwards were featured in the news, and she realized that people want to see what is odd and strange in life. But while she loved birds of all varieties and kept several species around the house, it was the peacocks that came to dominate her life. Written by Amy Alznauer with devotional attention to all things odd and illustrated in radiant paint by Ping Zhu, The Strange Birds of Flannery O’Connor explores the beginnings of one author’s lifelong obsession.

Link to Episode 326

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