Lynnette Mawhinney Writes Graphic Novel on Groundbreaking Civil Rights Activist Mamie Phipps Clark

Professor Lynnettee Mawhinney

For several decades, Professor Lynnette Mawhinney, Chair of Rutgers University–Newark’s Urban Education Department, has focused her research on the professional lives of urban teachers and pre-service teachers, with a specific focus on teachers of color. She’s also trained her lens on the schooling experiences of urban youth, biracial identity development, and autoethnographic approaches in educational settings.

Mawhinney has published extensively in both U.S. and internationally focused peer-reviewed journals, and is an award-winning author and scholar of six books, including There Has to be a Better Way: Lessons from Former Urban Teachers, winner of the 2020 American Educational Studies Association Critics Choice Book Award, We Got Next: Urban Education and the Next Generation of Black Teachers, and Strong Black Girls: Reclaiming Schools in Their Own Image. Mawhinney is also co-editor of the book series Contemporary Perspectives on the Lives of Teachers: Opportunities and Challenges (with Information Age Press).

Mawhinney hasn’t stopped there, however. She's made it a career goal to not only publish books and journal articles for peers in her profession but also to reach beyond academic writing and tackle book projects accessible to children and young adults.

In 2020, Mawhinney released her first illustrated children’s book titled, Lulu the One and Only, about a spunky, excitable, fierce young girl who, armed with her own unique power phrase (“I’m Lulu Lovington, the ONE and only!”) feels empowered to handle any questions that come her way, including the query she hears most often about her biracial identity: “What are you?” Mawhinney, who is also biracial, shows how Lulu navigates these sometimes choppy waters and provides guidance for talking about race, self-love and identity with mixed-race children.

This week, Mawhinney is releasing her second non-academic title, this one a graphic novel for young adults titled, Mamie Phipps Clark: A Champion for Children. This inspiring book tells the story of groundbreaking psychologist and civil rights activist Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD., and her research in the racial identity and development of self in Black children, work that ultimately played a vital role in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The book is part of American Psychological Association's Extraordinary Women in Psychology series.

Mawhinney’s publisher is holding a book-launch event this Saturday (2/10/24) at Source of Knowledge Books in Newark, a book store and community center that celebrates Black art, literature and culture. We sat down with Mawhinney recently to discuss her latest project.

 

How did this book come about?
Magination Press (under American Psychological Association) asked me to do this book as part of the Extraordinary Women in Psychology Series. Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark was next up in the series, but I really had to use my scholar skills in trying to research about her. During the process, I kept telling colleagues that finding Dr. Clark was like finding "Where's Waldo?" Due to the issue of gender and racialization, especially in how they played out in 1920, it was like she was an afterthought. So, I worked with four archives across four states, and I had to go to three of those archives multiple times.

 
What inspired the graphic novel format, and what made you decide to target the young-adult demographic for this project?
Although Magination Press wanted a prose book, I asked if we could do this book as part graphic novel (as in, one chapter). But the more Dr. Clark's story kept unfolding, the more I thought, This whole thing needs to be graphic novel. I am insanely grateful to my editor and the Magination Press team for allowing me to push and being able to let me do the whole book as graphic novel. Essentially, middle-grade biography books are trending toward graphic novels, because they are so much more engaging when readers can actually see a visual of someone's life.

 
The illustrations are captivating. Who did the art for the book?
Neil Evans did the artwork for the book. He is an illustrator out in Wales. It is standard in the industry that the illustrator is picked by the publisher. Yet, Magination Press sent me portfolios of a number of artists to pick from. I polled my colleagues at RU-N, friends and family, and Neil kept coming to the top. The intricacies of how he draws Black folks was just so on-point, and he was a great fit for the project. I am glad he said yes!

 
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
I want people to know Dr. Clark. Her work literally influences all children to do this day (e.g. Brown v. Board of Education), yet the youth really don't know her. I want her legacy to be known and for this story to be shared in schools, libraries and curriculums. I think it's fitting that the book is coming out during Black History Month and right near Women's History Month, as Dr. Clark is a shining light as a Black Women—although her story needs to be told past the February and March months.


What can we look forward to for the upcoming event at Source of Knowledge Books on Saturday, and what other promotion are you planning?
The book launch event is a celebration of the book. There will be food, music, a small talk on the book's origin story, and swag/raffle giveaways. It is a family-friendly event for the whole community. Additional event planning is in the works as we speak. I will be doing an event around the book on March 21at 6pm on campus, with more details to follow.


Any final thoughts?
This book has been quite a journey, because the research process was long, taking me from Harlem (NYC) to Washington, D.C., and even Ghana, and back again. So, I want to shout out to the librarians out there! They have superpowers that most don't acknowledge, but know that I see you and appreciate you!


Thanks for sitting down with us.
Thank you!