The following post was written by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in Literary Initiatives. It originally appeared on the National Book Festival Blog.
Her first film performance won the industry’s most prestigious honor, an Academy Award. Her first book became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller.
Such has been the extraordinary career trajectory of Lupita Nyong’o, who recently spoke to Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden about her life and how unhappy she was as a child with the way she looked. The video of their conversation, geared toward young viewers, premieres Thursday, April 8, at 10 a.m., on the Library’s Facebook page and its YouTube site. The event will be available for viewing afterward on the Library’s website.
The book is “Sulwe,” written for young people. Most children experience periods where they are unhappy with their appearance, but in the title character’s case, she believed her skin was too dark, that she wasn’t as beautiful as her lighter-skinned sister. These feelings stem from “colorism” in society, the belief that those with lighter skin are more attractive.
Nyong’o tells Hayden that she would pray to wake up with lighter skin so she could be more beautiful. She reads a prayer to Hayden from the book, in which Sulwe does the same thing. Hayden calls it “heartbreaking” and notes that boys too experience feelings of being unattractive.
Nyong’o worked with the illustrator Vashti Harrison on the glorious images created for the book. The actor tells Hayden that usually writers and illustrators do not work together, but this case was different. Nyong’o wanted to conceptualize with Harrison how her character should appear.
Hayden also talks to Nyong’o about her film career. She won an Academy Award for “Twelve Years a Slave,” and has since gone on to roles in “Black Panther” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” She tells Hayden how much “fun” it was to be in those films, but that they are also a lot of work.
Although Nyong’o says it took her a long time to write “Sulwe,” she says she will definitely write another. She also told Hayden that she came to realize she was beautiful – just like her sister.
We hope you’ll tune in on Thursday for this National Book Festival Presents program.