“The New York Times” has called her “the answer to the book industry’s multicultural dreams.” “If There Would Be No Light: Poems from My Heart” was published when she was 8 years old; the forward was written by Gloria Steinem. Her work has been praised by the likes of Phoebe Snow, Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones and Bonnie Raitt. This kind of literary accomplishment would be enough for most kids in middle school; however, writing is only a part of artist Sahara Sunday Spain‘s creative arsenal. In addition to being an accomplished poet, Spain is a dancer, a songwriter, a singer, a visual artist and a globe-trotting social activist.
One cannot look at Spain without looking at her environment as well. Her talents, impressive regardless of context, might have languished without the presence of her mother, professional photographer Elisabeth Sunday. It was Sunday’s decision to raise Spain in a world scrubbed clean of the noxious influence of popular culture. Without television, electronic toys or junk food to impede her creative development, the young poet was speaking in complete sentences by 14 months. Spain was 5 years old when she wrote her first poem, entitled “Mother’s Milk,” which reads, “When I drink mother’s milk/my heart sweats with love.”
As for her activism, Spain keeps with the family spirit. Her father is Johnny Spain, a former Black Panther who has spent a long time in jail and is no longer an active presence in his daughter’s life. Nevertheless, she carries on his tradition of activism. She has taken it upon herself to aid village girls in Mali by creating the Kah-Monno group — a name taken from the one she was given by Mali elders. “Kah-Monno” means unity and understanding through conversation. Spain plans to fund the education of 35 girls there, hoping to use the proceeds from her sale of rights to a song she wrote, “The Night of the Day.”
If you’re an artist with a family, working to nurture your child’s creativity while sustaining your own can become two sides of the same coin. Sunday herself notes, “We are a creative family. It’s easy to be inspired.” Indeed, in addition to having a photographer for a mother, Spain has a grandfather who’s a stained-glass designer, a grandmother who’s a potter and a great-grandfather who’s a painter. For this reason, Spain’s second book of poetry, “River of Ancestors,” is an homage to her deeply artistic heritage.
In the Spark episode “All in the Family,” spend a day in the life of Sahara Sunday Spain and her mother Elisabeth Sunday, the latter working hard to make it as both an artist and a single parent, having to squeeze her creativity in between dropping Spain off at school in the mornings and picking her up in the afternoon. Learn about the artistic stream running through Spain and Sunday from their relatives. Above all, see that behind these artists is a loving family to support and inspire them.